Results 1 to 9 of 9
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Jul 2012
    • Posts: 295
    #1

    passivizing sentences with "try to"

    Are the (b) sentences below grammatical? We can take or leave the by-phrases.

    (1a) He tried to help her.
    (1b) She was tried to be helped by him.

    (2a) They were trying to solve the problem.
    (2b) The problem was being tried to be solved by them.

    (3a) Many people have tried to climb this mountain.
    (3b) This mountain has been tried to be climbed by many people.

    Thank you.

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • England

    • Join Date: Jun 2010
    • Posts: 24,498
    #2

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    As a native speaker, you must be aware that the (b) sentences are utterly absurd.

    Why are trying to contort perfectly good active sentences into ridiculous passive ones?

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Jul 2012
    • Posts: 295
    #3

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    Thank you very much, Rover. I am aware that the (b) sentences are incredibly awkward, and I'm inclined to say that they're ungrammatical. But I am not absolutely certain that they are ungrammatical, and that is why I asked the question. At a different grammar forum, where I am a moderator, I tried to passivize a sentence with "try to" in order to illustrate one meaning of an ambiguous active sentence. The passivization came automatically to me, but the sentence sounded terrible. (I went ahead and used it anyway.) The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that the sentence (and others like it) might be downright ungrammatical, especially since the transformational-generative grammar I've learned doesn't seem to allow such sentences to be passivized. Shall we say, then, that the (b) sentences above, and the following examples from the COCA corpus, are all ungrammatical? And shall we make the generalization that no sentence with "try to" can grammatically be passivized?

    * "The data obtained by survey questions was tried to be analyzed with the help of the SPSS software."
    * "This is something taught at all the racing schools, and it must be tried to be believed."
    * "However, both reviews and observations of researchers reveal that, despite a new program, a new understanding, not much has changed in language instruction classes; mainly a grammar lesson is tried to be given."
    * "Special-needs students are welcomed and their needs are tried to be met at the centers offering school-to-work programs."
    * "In recent years, laws have been written, have been tried to be written to make certain that people don't profit from their crimes."

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • England
      • Current Location:
      • England

    • Join Date: Jun 2010
    • Posts: 24,498
    #4

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    Fair enough, Phaedrus.

    I have nothing to add. Let's see if anybody else cares to comment.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 09-Sep-2014 at 13:15. Reason: Fixing typo

  1. Roman55's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • British English
      • Home Country:
      • Italy
      • Current Location:
      • France

    • Join Date: Feb 2014
    • Posts: 2,310
    #5

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    Quote Originally Posted by Phaedrus View Post
    * "This is something taught at all the racing schools, and it must be tried to be believed."
    I am not a teacher.

    I care to comment.

    This one is OK if you take it to mean, 'You have to try it to believe it'.

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Jul 2012
    • Posts: 295
    #6

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    Good point, Roman. I shouldn't have quoted that one. It means what you say it means: the next sentence is "So try it" (not: "So try to believe it").

  2. MikeNewYork's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • American English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Nov 2002
    • Posts: 24,983
    #7

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    I find all the B sentences and the remaining four at the bottom to be ungrammatical.

  3. Raymott's Avatar
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • Australia
      • Current Location:
      • Australia

    • Join Date: Jun 2008
    • Posts: 24,091
    #8

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    You could passivize those sentences in the following way:
    1c. His helping her was tried.
    2c. Solving the problem was tried by them.
    3c. Climbing the mountain has been tried by many people.

    These sentences are not elegant (except that 3 sounds OK), but I believe they are all grammatical. So your generalisation that, "... no sentence with "try to" can grammatically be passivized" seems to be wrong.

    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • United States

    • Join Date: Jul 2012
    • Posts: 295
    #9

    Re: passivizing sentences with "try to"

    Thank you, Mike and Raymott, for your comments. We all seem to be in agreement that the (b) sentences, along with four of the COCA examples, are ungrammatical. I find this very interesting, because native speakers do seem prone toward passivizing clauses with "try to" on occasion. When I enter the search terms "was tried to be" into Google books, I get over forty thousand results! And there are, naturally, plenty of results for "is tried to be," "are tried to be," "were tried to be," "be tried to be," "been tried to be," and "being tried to be," as well.

    Now, it's true that many of those results are irrelevant. Some involve the legal sense of something's being tried, and others (relatively few, I believe) are like the example that Roman so astutely observed to have a different meaning, the infinitive following tried being an adjunct of purpose. However, I'd say that the vast majority of the Google-book results for "was tried to be" are genuine cases of passivization of clauses with "try to." So, assuming we're right that such sentences are ungrammatical, we're talking about a widespread type of grammatical error!

    You could passivize those sentences in the following way:
    1c. His helping her was tried.
    2c. Solving the problem was tried by them.
    3c. Climbing the mountain has been tried by many people.
    These sentences are not elegant (except that 3 sounds OK), but I believe they are all grammatical. So your generalisation that, "... no sentence with "try to" can grammatically be passivized" seems to be wrong.
    Very interesting, Raymott. I agree with you that (3c) sounds OK. The other two seem to me to be of questionable acceptability. I think I tend to find such passives to be obviously acceptable mainly in cases where the -ing word is lexically a noun. Take surfing, for example. I find the sentence Surfing was tried by all the children to be an obviously acceptable passive of All the children tried surfing. But I don't think Surfing was tried by all the children is, syntactically or semantically, a passive of All the children tried to surf. Consider the difference in meaning:


    • I tried to surf, but I kept falling off the board.
    • I tried surfing, but I found that it wasn't for me.


    Thus I tend to think that Climbing the mountain has been tried by many people is the passive of Many people have tried climbing the mountain rather than of Many people have tried to climb the mountain, and that those two active sentences have subtly different meanings. In informal English, as we know, we sometimes use "try and" in place of "try to." Interestingly, this only seems to work when both "try" and the other verb are in their base forms. (I've actually confirmed that by looking in a couple of grammar books.) I find the following rather amusing:


    • We must try and climb the mountain.
    • *The mountain must be tried and climbed by us.

Similar Threads

  1. [Grammar] Usage of "Gerund" and "Infinitive" sentences
    By shahjehansoomro in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 14-May-2014, 13:54
  2. Replies: 4
    Last Post: 17-Sep-2012, 04:23
  3. Replies: 5
    Last Post: 20-May-2012, 06:01
  4. Replies: 1
    Last Post: 18-May-2012, 16:30
  5. Replies: 1
    Last Post: 23-Jul-2006, 13:52

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •