I am confused by the voices used in these two sentences:

  • While there's a conceptual proposal on the table for a new Appleton Public Library in a mixed-use development, there are still plenty of details to be worked out and questions to be answered, Mayor Tim Hanna cautioned Monday. Source

  • As Sophie opened her garden gate, she looked in the mailbox. There was usually a lot of junk mail and a few big envelopes for her mother, a pile to dump on the kitchen table before she went up to her room to start her homework. - Jostein Gaarder, "Sophie's World"

I think both details and pile are objects of their respective verbs, work out and dump. But I don't understand why different voices are used in these two infinitive phrases?

Could anyone please kindly help me to understand this difference?

  • It's supine. In grammar, a Latin verbal noun used only in the accusative and ablative cases, especially to denote purpose (e.g. mirabile dictu ‘wonderful to relate’). Commented May 9, 2019 at 12:17
  • Lucian, I looked into wikipedia, and it says that in English 'supine' is sometimes used to refer to the 'to'-infinitive. But I still don't understand why different voices are used in the above sentences?
    – daiyubao
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 13:22

1 Answer 1


There is no real reason to use the passive voice in the first example and the active voice in the second, other than personal choice.

Politicians habitually speak to the public in the passive voice, because it avoids specifying who is responsible for some action. There are many reasons to do this, such as not wanting to place or accept blame.

The secretary acknowledges that mistakes were made in assigning the contract for the public work ...

or because no one has yet made a decision about who is responsible:

... but assures that the matter will be investigated.

or simply to make it more difficult for the public to find the responsible person and ask questions.

In the excerpt from "Sophie's World", the author could have written it in the passive voice, but there is no reason why he would have to. We know that Sophie is the one doing the "dumping" of the pile of junk mail and envelopes. Keep in mind that this novel was written in Swedish and then translated into English, so the phrasing might be the translator trying to preserve as much as possible the nuance from the original language.

  • Thank you Andrew! So the active voice is preferred when the author feels there is no need or do not want to specify the subject of the action?
    – daiyubao
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 5:39
  • @daiyubao I couldn't say for sure. I'm just guessing. Again remember the original is Swedish, so if you want to know for sure you'd have to ask how it sounds in that language. I'm afraid I can't help you there.
    – Andrew
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 6:00

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