The verb optimize isn't intransitive therefore isn't ergative, so how could we use it like below? By the way, as far as I know using transitive verbs intransitively is not grammatical/possible.

The string has to do more things. It is harder to optimize.

I think it should at least be:
The string has to do more things. It is harder to be optimized.

What are your ideas, guys?

  • Context please and source of the sentences. Jul 15, 2017 at 11:25
  • Btw, I do not know why you bold the string. Jul 15, 2017 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


I agree with your premise that "optimize" is a transitive verb, but I don't think objects should necessarily be overt; they can be covert as in your example

The string has to do more things. It is harder to optimize it

We call this a tough construction *, in which the subject in the main clause is the implied object in the infinitival clause. This contruction is permitted by tough adjectives—e.g easy, hard, difficult.

The passive counterpart is not possible since it doesn't take an object.

*Biber et al in the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English analyze it as an object-to-subject raising; I don't like this term, however, because it can be confusing to learners. Tough contruction is a good term because it reminds you of the tough adjectives.

  • +1, Thank you for your answer. Do you mean It is harder to be optimized is incorrect? I didn't get your reason for that, rightly.
    – Abbasi
    Jul 15, 2017 at 13:16
  • @Abbasi The tough adjective needs the subject in the main clause to be the object in the infinitival clause. So the passive construction, which doesn't take an object, is not correct. (Cf. *It's harder to be optimized it.) Jul 15, 2017 at 13:58
  • I don't agree with this part. :-) What is your source about the case please?
    – Abbasi
    Jul 15, 2017 at 14:12
  • @Abbasi "[T]he subject of the sentence is identified with the unexpressed object of the infinitive clause, which must therefore have a transitive verb; hence the unacceptable *Bob is hard to arrive" (Quirk et al., 1985, p. 1229). A passivised verb is no longer transitive. Jul 15, 2017 at 14:33

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