In an English text book, I found the following sentence.

a. "The Swiss tunnel took 17 years to build." 

(The full article follows.)

"A tunnel" is supposed to be built, so I think

b. The Swiss tunnel took 17 years "to be built".

According to a native speaker, "a." is much better.

Is "build" a verb intransitive in the a.?

In Switzerland, a train has made the first trip using the world’s longest railway tunnel. The tunnel goes through the Alps. It connects Zurich and Lugano.

The train left Zurich on December 11, carrying about 500 passengers. It passed through the 57.1-kilometer-long Gotthard Base Tunnel.

“This is a historic moment,” a male passenger said. “I really wanted to be part of it.”

At the end of the two-hour ride, the train reached Lugano. Passengers were welcomed by crowds and musicians at a train platform.


It's quite difficult to substantiate: "According to a native speaker, "a." is much better," but in this case, the Ngram program, crude as it is, actually provides some useful material.

Both forms are possible (and both are grammatically correct). However, according to Ngrams "is built" is much the commoner of the two variants, so could be considered, if not "much better", at least the preferred one in printed texts:

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  • Thank you for your comments. The title I posted is a little off the point. Actually, I thought the other alternative, "The Swiss tunnel took 17 years to have built." because the tunnel company had started to build it. However, since I would like to understand the difference between "to build" and "to be built" (in other word, ”verb transitive” or "verb intransitive" ?) – othman Jun 20 '17 at 5:40
  • , I did not ask about "to have built". – othman Jun 20 '17 at 6:33
  • 1
    These Ngrams are not the ones to use at all. Try 'years to build' and 'years to be built'. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '17 at 8:58

In your case , a) is indeed much better, because the tunnel itself took no part in the construction; it took [the tunnelling company, with their engineers and tunnelling machinery] 17 years to build it. A coral reef, on the other hand, might take some time to be built equally as well as some time to build.

  • Thank you for your comments. "It took [the tunnelling company...] to build it." is totally easy to understand, however due to my poor English skill, I cannot catch the meaning of "the tunnel itself took part in the construction." and "A coral reef..." (I sort of understand – othman Jun 19 '17 at 6:25
  • (very sorry, I sent the comment on the way.) I sort of understand the meaning, but have little confidence.) A coral reef develops, on the other hand, a tunnel does not devlop...? – othman Jun 19 '17 at 7:19

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