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I am writting a recommendation letter for one of my employees in support of his application for graduate school in Canada and English is not my native language obviously.
There is a sentence:

"In light of the complexity of our software system and tight project schedules, there were always fires that needed to put out."

Is it grammatically right? Or

"In light of the complexity of our software system and tight project schedules, there were always fires that needed to be put out."

is the right expression?
"need to be done" is a common active construction with a passive meaning but in the "there were some things that needed to ..." sentence pattern, is it OK just to use the active construction for "put out" instead of "be put out"?

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“Put out” is transitive and requires a direct object.

“Fires that needed to be put out”- this works both syntactically and semantically, as “fires” is the object of the putting out- the object exists and it is the correct one. The passive voice is fine since whoever needs to put out the fires is not as important as the fact that the fires should be put out.

“Fires that needed to put out”- this does not work, as there is no direct object, and “fires” is acting as the subject. The fires being the actors is definitely not the intended meaning.

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In standard English dialects, 'be' is always accompanied by 'to'. There are some regional dialects where it's used alone, and you might see it by itself in old texts or in a literary use ("Here be dragons!"), but in most spoken and all formal contexts, you should use 'to be'. In this case, your second example is the correct version.

  • Thank you for your answer. The main problem here is whether I should use an active voice "to put out", which implys the action performer is an anonymous some person, or a passive voice "to be put out", which implys the action is imposed upon these "fires"? – Weili Si Feb 12 at 2:28

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