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I have a question about the difference between the following two sentences:

  1. He might be punished if he is seen leaving the campus.
  2. He might be punished if he is seen to leave the campus.

Do they mean the same thing?

4 Answers 4

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I'd say, though they are similar, there is potentially a very slight difference in perception.

He might be punished if he is seen leaving the campus.

If someone actually spots him in the act of leaving,

He might be punished if he is seen to leave the campus.

If at any point someone realises he is no longer there.

The second version could be clarified still further, as

He might be punished if he is seen to have left the campus.

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  • Interesting that you understand the infinitive as a perfective there.
    – TimR
    Aug 21, 2018 at 10:21
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo - I'm no grammarian - I've never even heard of a perfective ;-) Aug 21, 2018 at 10:32
  • "to have left" -- he's gone, not leaving. "completed action".
    – TimR
    Aug 21, 2018 at 10:46
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leaving and to leave would mean the same thing there. In the past century, the infinitive has been on the decline in that pattern; I would associate it with a more formal style. You certainly won't hear seen to leave in an all-points bulletin going out over police radio in the US.

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    Google Books Ngram Viewer indicates that the infinitive form was more popular in the second half of the 19th century but has since fallen well behind, accounting for less than 20% of spots. Aug 20, 2018 at 23:01
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The difference is that seen leaving implies his being seen in the act of leaving.

Seen to leave could mean that but also could mean that his leaving is noticed, not necessarily visually, but by some unspecified awareness of it.

Idiomatically, it could be synonymous with seen to have left but not necessarily. It could also mean seen to be in the process of leaving - where seen is not literal. The expression seen to do something always carries the possibility of this other sense.

Seen has both a literal sense - relating to visual awareness. It also has a wider sense of someone becoming aware of something e.g. "If the government is seen to favour businesses, there may be howls of protest from the trade unions". Seen to do would more likely imply the non-literal sense than seen doing.

The same applies to to other tenses of see.

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Both are correct.\

...he is seen leaving the campus. (in the middle of leaving, not complete action)

...he is seen to leave the campus. (complete action, from beginning to end)

We saw him crossing the road. (in the middle of crossing)

Passive Voice: He was seen crossing the road.

We saw him cross the road. (complete action, from beginning to end)

Passive Voice: He was seen to cross the road.

After see, watch, listen to, hear, notice etc. we can use an -ing form and an infinitive without to.

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