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Example Sentence:

They believed the bridge was constructed badly. ⇒ The bridge was believed to [be/have been] constructed badly.

Which should I use in this case, "to be" or "to have been"?

I found different answers from different sources and was taught differently by different teachers.

Some say that if event reported in question uses any form of the past, one should use the perfect to-infinitive, aka. the present perfect. This is a source I found which supports this rule, and my school did as well as this was a question on a test; to which the answer was "to have been"

On the other hand, some teachers taught me that if the event and the reporting happened in the same time frame or the event reported happened later than the reporting act (as this sentence clearly demonstrates since both clauses are in the same tense — the past simple), one should use the present to-infinitive, aka. the unconjugated present simple; in this case "to be". An example of this is a YouTube Video I found aimed at Russian viewers learning English.

So which is it should I use (note that I was taught differently by different teachers rather than relying solely on the Internet)? And is there a rule that I can use the next time I encounter these types of questions? I have always wondered about this but couldn't get one definitive answer. Any and all answers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot in advance!

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  • Your terminology is confusing. For example, "simple" is often contrasted with "perfect", but you use "simple" to describe "to have been", which is in the perfect aspect. You also say that "to be" is in "the present perfect", but there is nothing perfect about it. There are some other issues, too; I think that you need to go through this question and make sure that you are using the right terms. If you do so, then I think it will be easier for people to answer it. Dec 5 '21 at 16:35
  • @MarcInManhattan you are correct, their positions should have been the opposite! Dec 6 '21 at 6:04
  • Please delete the duplicate question over at ELU. It's not allowed to post the same question in two Stackexchange sites. Dec 6 '21 at 17:36
  • Cross-posting is frowned upon, especially if you post the exact same question.
    – Glorfindel
    Dec 8 '21 at 7:13
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My reaction is that both ways can potentially work, although they have different meanings. Depending on the context, the difference in meaning might be unimportant. To wit:

The bridge was believed to be constructed badly.

This means that the people who held the belief were thinking about a bridge that exists in the present. They believed that it was a lousy bridge - i.e. that it had been constructed badly, and still exists in this badly-constructed state. After some thought, I actually think that replacing "constructed badly" with "badly constructed" would sound better here - it gives it more of an adjectival feel - but "constructed badly" doesn't stand out to me as noticeably wrong.

The bridge was believed to have been constructed badly.

In this example, the people believe that a certain event took place in the past - specifically, that the bridge was constructed badly. Perhaps the bridge is gone now - maybe it indeed collapsed. If that's the case, this is definitely the preferred phrasing, because the first phrasing suggests to me that the bridge still exists. On the other hand, there is no implication here that the bridge is necessarily gone. Perhaps the bridge was constructed badly, and remains in its badly-constructed state. So this phrasing can cover both cases.

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  • Another example with "is" in case it helps clarify. "The man is believed to be badly beat up." This means that the belief is that the man was beat up in the recent past and is currently still in a "beat up" condition - i.e. he has bruises, broken bones, whatever. "The man is believed to have been badly beat up" means people believe he was beat up in the past (when, exactly, would have to be inferred from context) without saying anything about whether or not he is still in the beat-up condition.
    – cruthers
    Dec 6 '21 at 17:57
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Which should I use in this case, "to be" or "to have been"?

What you're supposed to do is match the aspect (whether or not you use perfect construction) of the original sentence.

You've got a challenging sentence to flip into passive voice, because it has an implied "that ..." phrase.

I think this is what you're supposed to do for your original sentence.

They believed [that] the bridge was constructed badly. ⇒ That the bridge was constructed badly was believed by them

Perfect construction example:

They believed [that] the bridge had been constructed badly. ⇒ That the bridge had been constructed badly was believed by them.

I think the above is technically correct but kinda clunky. It's OK to do this:

What was believed by them is that the bridge (was / has been) constructed badly.

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I would use "to have been badly constructed," because I like to match tenses. But plenty of people would say "to be badly constructed," so if I were grading an exam with this question, I wouldn't take points off either way.

In a trial, in court, if an attorney wants to ask precise questions of a witness, in which the time frame for the opinion matters, the attorney will set up the context and the time frame carefully, and will not rely solely on the choice of tense because so many people, in practice, would use these two versions interchangeably.

In other words, I disagree with @cruthers.

I haven't got any sources for you other than my ear, sorry -- but I hope this is helpful.

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