We have a situation: someone saw the boy break the window. Can I make this passive sentence?

The boy was seen to break the window.

I use Murphy's Grammar and this structure is never discussed.

  • 3
    Consider also "The boy was seen breaking the window."
    – user230
    Feb 28, 2014 at 11:00
  • @snailplane: Is your sentence more common, or my is ungrammatical?
    – mosceo
    Feb 28, 2014 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


"The boy was seen breaking the window"

... as snailboat recommended is more common, but not more correct. I believe "the boy was seen to break the window" would be grammatically correct.

Consider what happens if you swap "seen" with "known": "The boy was known to break the window." No problem there - that's a common way to say it.

That said, I would still prefer "breaking" over "to break". "The boy was seen breaking the window. He was known to break windows frequently."

  • Interesting. Perhaps the reason for this difference is because of implied meanings. Presumably, the boy was seen while he was breaking the window, and the fact that the boy breaks windows is known. The differing tenses in these two sentences carry over.
    – BobRodes
    Feb 28, 2014 at 16:03
  • I agree with you, @BobRodes. Likewise, "the boy was known breaking the window" doesn't make any sense.
    – hairboat
    Feb 28, 2014 at 17:08

You can form this by saying "The boy was seen breaking the window." This is past progressive tense, and a passive sentence.


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