2

He is the man to rely on

and

Rules are made to be broken

What's the difference between the to and to be in these two sentences?

Can I say both sentences the other way around?

He is the man to be relied on

and

Rules are made to break?

But from what I've searched on Google, there's no such thing as Rules are made to break?

I think it's because Rules are made to be broken applies to everyone and He is the man to rely on applies to only the speaker(s) and their listener(s). Or am I wrong?

2 Answers 2

1

In the first sentence the verb is to rely [on]. It is used in its infinitive form, meaning the "to" is part of the infinitive, because the main verb in the sentence is the verb "to be"—conjugated in this example as "he is."

In the second sentence the verb is to break, again used in its infinitive form but this time in the passive voice. Again the main verb is "to be"—conjugated as "rules are"—and the infinitive form is used for the second verb in the sentence. The active infinitive is to break and the passive infinitive is to be broken, which is formed by taking the infinitive of the verb "to be" and appending the past participle of the verb "to break." This is the standard way to construct a passive infinitive in English, although the past participle of "to break" is itself irregular.


As for switching around the active and passive in your examples:

  • (?) He is the man to be relied on.
    This is not a natural phrasing. I would prefer He is a man to be relied upon. (In fact I would prefer a rather than the in the original active-voice sentence.) But the meaning is essentially the same as the original, which is not always the case when changing between the active and the passive voice!
  • Rules are made to break.
    This is a grammatically acceptable sentence but—as is more often true—does not have the same meaning as the original. "Made to be broken" means that the rules have to be broken by some person doing something that is contrary to the rules. "Made to break" doesn't even make sense; rules must be broken by some person, and in fact it doesn't really work to say that even a physical object is "made to break." Things don't break on their own; they might fade or crumble but even then you expect some agent to bring about that change, even if the agent is a natural phenomenon like sunlight.
3
  • Your explanation is quite useful. So better to say This is a perfect tree to be leaned against than This is a perfect tree to lean against. And as for the first sentence, (by the way I quoted that from Wikipedia: English relative clauses and the original article is the not a so I asked if it was only known by the speaker and their listener) I can choose either the active voice structure or the passive voice one, e.g She is the woman to beat or She is the woman to be beaten. Although I still think the latter conveys the availability of the beating of the woman.
    – Clansky
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 16:22
  • 1
    @Clansky A native speaker would say "This is a perfect tree to lean against" when they are actually leaning on the tree or considering leaning on it themselves, or "This is a perfect tree for leaning on" if they are speaking about the tree in general. "to be leaned against" is an awkward construct.
    – Esther
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 18:05
  • @Clansky unfortunately with this type of "referential" or "recommending" sentence the normal rules of when to use "the" or "a" might not apply. Note especially the use of the pronoun "he" which means the referent must be known already; but you can say He's a man you can trust (one of several such men you can trust) or He's the man you want (there is no other possible substitute). Plus more idiomatic phrases like He's your man! Perhaps this deserves a new question.
    – randomhead
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 18:19
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He is the man to rely on. The phrasal verb here is: rely on, implying on someone.

The verb (above) is in active voice.

  • I rely on him or on that man. He is the man to be relied on [by us]. The sentence can be made passive like that.

  • Rules are made to be broken [by whomever]. is already in the passive form or voice.

A passive is made by using the verb be followed by the past participle. The past participle here is broken. Break, broke, broken.

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