Look at this example below

The carpet needs___________ before we use it.

a) cleaning b) to be cleaned

Which one would be more appropriate in the given context and why?

My thought process was: a person always clear a carpet so it should have a passive sense --> to be cleaned. But the first one also looks fine. Additionally, please clarify if we are using cleaning as a gerund in the first option.


Both are passive and both are idiomatic. The version with the gerund-participle is what Huddleston & Pullum (2002) call a concealed passive construction and the version with the infinitive an ordinary passive construction:

With a small number of catenative verbs, notably need, require, deserve and want, a gerund-participial may be passive while lacking the usual marking of the passive — we refer to this as a concealed passive construction.

i The house needs to be painted. [ordinary passive]
ii. The house needs painting. [concealed passive]

The catenative complement in [i] is overtly marked as a passive by the auxiliary be and the past participle form painted ... while [that] in [ii] lacks such marking although [it is] interpreted in the same way. (p. 1199-1200)

Note also that the version with the gerund-participle can freely take a by-phrase complement as in "the carpet needs cleaning by you".

  • Agreed. Both are fine. – whiskeychief Jul 10 '19 at 10:45

Both forms are fine. I would probably prefer 'to be cleaned' which is very common and idiomatic. To me, 'needs'+gerund sounds a bit more complicated, although still fine to use.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.