General Writing and Grammar Help/grammar terms


QUESTION: Dear Ted,  

Would you tell me if the following terms are correct?

past passive infinitive
past active  infinitive
present passive infinitive
present active infinitive

Or, should I say:

passive past infinitive
active past infinitive
passive present infinitive
active present infinitive

Or, can either way be correct?

I keep getting these terms very mixed up.  Sometimes I say them one way and sometimes the other way.  This is making these terms that much harder for me to understand and keep straight in my head.  I very much appreciate your help.



ANSWER: Dear Rich:

I found a brief summary of all the uses [and labels] of infinitives.  See if this one answers your question:

Rich, some people call the "progressive form" the "continuous form."  They are two different descriptions of the same thing.


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Thank you.

Unless, I somehow overlooked it (which for me is quite possible) there was nothing in this site about how to correctly apply the labels:   past passive, past active, present passive, and present active  to infinitives.  

I am trying to find out which word to say first past/present or active/passive.

For example:  should I say "past passive infinitive"  or  "passive past infinitive"?

Once again,  thank you for your efforts to help me.



Dear Rich:

No, you haven't overlooked anything.  The site I sent you lists all the possible forms of infinitives.

Here's the problem:  You are mixing the proverbial apples and oranges.  Words like "present," "past" and "future" are used in reference to the TENSE of the verbs.  "Passive" and "active" refer to the VOICE of the verbs.  You cannot join the two things in order to come up with a label.

For example:  The ball was hit a long way.  The verb "was hit" is past tense.  It is also in the passive voice, because the person doing the action -- the hitter -- is not mentioned.

In my searching the internet for that chart, I came across some Italian and Spanish sites that I received as a result of using "past passive infinitive."  I didn't peruse those sites, because I knew that they did not apply to the English language.  Perhaps these labels DO appear in other languages, but they do not in the English language.


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Ted Nesbitt


I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.


I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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