The whole sentence is:

The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.

I did not understand the grammar structure of 'has been to overlook...'. Not sure if this is correct English. This sentence was excerpted from a native English author Alain de Botton's book. Could anyone explain this grammatical usage?


I think in your sentence, "to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed" is a to-infinitive clause which serves as a subject complement and according to Cambridge Dictionary it means:

A subject complement gives us more information about the subject. It usually comes after linking verbs and sense verbs (including be, seem, smell, taste), and after change of state verbs (including go, get, become).

In your sentence "has been" is the present perfect form of the verb "to be" which is a linking verb and can be followed by a subject complement in order to give more information about the subject of your sentence (The error of modern atheism).

  • great, I think you are probably right. However, I still feel that if author changes "has been" to "has become", this sentence will be much more readable. :) – Dave Hwang Oct 2 '18 at 15:35
  • @Dave Hwang: Nah - if you simply replaced to overlook in the cited text with overlooking, you'd effectively end up with a somewhat gibberish sentence. You can't really say "the error" actually does something like "overlooking", but you can certainly define that error using an infinitive construction as cited. – FumbleFingers Oct 2 '18 at 15:40
  • @FumbleFingers, yes, just realized that. So I edited my words soon. :) – Dave Hwang Oct 2 '18 at 15:44
  • 1
    +1 to the answer. @Dave Hwang: has become is complemented by an attained state; to overlook something is not a state but an action. They have become entangled in a scandal. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 2 '18 at 18:09

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