1. ohmyrichard
    Offline

    ohmyrichard Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2008
    Messages:
    443
    Likes Received:
    9

    a problem to be conquered Vs a problem to overcome

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ohmyrichard, Dec 14, 2009.

    Hi,everyone.
    This afternoon, my student asked me a question about the infinitives in the following two sentences taken from their reading course book:

    Sentence 1. But, say the experts, there are many problems still to be conquered before such an engine can in fact be fixed into a car.

    Sentence 2. As will be realized, this is perhaps the biggest problem of all to overcome.

    My student asked me why the infinitive in Sentence 1 is in the passive voice while the infinitive in Sentence 2 is in the active voice. As I am unclear about this linguistic issue, I admitted my lack of knowledge of this issue frankly. But I promised to consult my grammar books and tell her next week. Right after I came back home from work, I did it as I had promised. However, unfortunately, I consulted Collins CoBuild English Usage and Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English and got nothing helpful in the two books. Now I have no choice but to come here to seek your help.

    Please tell me when to use an infinitive in the active voice and when to use an infinitive in the passive voice. And can "to be conquered" in Sentence 1 be changed to "to conquer" and can "to overcome" in Sentence 2 be changed to "to be overcome"? And why (not)?

    Thanks a lot.
    Richard
     
  2. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,855
    Likes Received:
    10,028
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    In the first example, the verb in question is in the form of a past participle in the infinitive which takes the verb form and makes of it an adjective of sorts.

    In the second example, the verb is simply a transitive verb, also in the infinitive.


    In both examples, either the past participle construction or the transitive verb construction would be permitted. The past participle is somewhat wordier and carries with it a lessening of impact concerning the action and also a distancing of causality from the source of the action. It is less direct in both physical construction and implied impact, though you may find this particular difference to be arguable. A simple transitive verb is more direct and does not carry with it the arguable intent to distance the actor from the action.
     
    1 person likes this.
  3. Destin
    Offline

    Destin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2009
    Messages:
    130
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Canada
    Brilliant! I might be wrong but in layman's terms:

    Authors choice?
     
  4. ohmyrichard
    Offline

    ohmyrichard Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2008
    Messages:
    443
    Likes Received:
    9
    Thanks for your help. I forgot to tell you that the two sentences were taken from the same essay. Nevertheless, this perhaps does not affect anything. Thanks for your informative explanation.
     
  5. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    The difference between 'a problem to be conquered' and 'a problem to conquer/overcome' is that the first is passive and the second is active construction.

    In other words, if the emphasis is more on the problem to be conquered, use the first; if it's more on the struggle of the person who has to conquer it, use the second.
     
  6. ohmyrichard
    Offline

    ohmyrichard Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2008
    Messages:
    443
    Likes Received:
    9
    Thanks. But it is a little bit difficult for me to understand that when "the problem to conquer", in which "for us or me or you" is omitted, is used, it is the struggle which is emphasized.
     
  7. madhoca
    Offline

    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2008
    Messages:
    2,527
    Likes Received:
    88
    Location:
    the shadow of the velvet fortress
    I see what you mean, Richard. But it's more of a problem when looked at in isolation. In the original sentence:

    As will be realized, this is perhaps the biggest problem of all to overcome.

    The 'doer' seems to be the 'experts' who are mentioned earlier on, so 'for them' becomes unnecessary. It could become unclear, though, if in fact the action was done by another party.
     
  8. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,855
    Likes Received:
    10,028
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    You are most welcome, Richard. ;)

    It does not surprise me in the least that both constructions were found in the same essay. Assuming this essay was written by a native speak, I must say that these very fine differences in nuance are often lost even on the native speaker when there are multiple syntax forms from which to choose. Especially if the writer has been trained to "mix it up" or add variety for the sake of variety in their manner of writing.

    Wrey
     
  9. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    could just as well be:

    Sentence 1. But, say the experts, there are many problems still to conquer before such an engine can in fact be fixed into a car.

    Sentence 2. As will be realized, this is perhaps the biggest problem of all to be overcome.

    the difference is passive voice vs. active voice...
     
  10. ohmyrichard
    Offline

    ohmyrichard Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2008
    Messages:
    443
    Likes Received:
    9
    You are right about variety in sentence structure in writing. We nonnatives are also taught to achieve this good result in our writing but it is not easy to get it in real practice. And you are also correct about who wrote those two sentences. They were written by a native speaker of English. But right now I do not have the book, so I cannot tell you who actually wrote them.
    Thanks for your further explanation.

    Thanks, maia.

    I am sorry that I misunderstood you. Now that I have read your post again, I will say that I agree with you that it is a bad tendency to add variety for its own sake.
     

Share This Page