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We know that we use bare infinitive with certain verbs like make.

I made him laugh. (Active voice)

He was made to laugh by me. (Passive voice)

Why is the bare infinitive used in the active voice and an infinitive is used in the passive voice?

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2 Answers 2

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I made him [laugh].

He was made [to laugh by me].

These are both catenative constructions in which the bracketed non-finite clauses are complement of the catenative verb "make".

A few catenative verbs take bare infinitivals, including the causatives "make", "have" and "let".

In the case of "make", "to" is restricted to the passive.

I don't know why "make" licenses bare infintivals in active clauses and only to-infinitivals in passives; it's just a fact of English grammar.

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It may help to remember that active voice verbs which can be made passive must all be transitive verbs, meaning they have at least one object. In the example you provide, the object is "him."

When converted to a passive-voice construction, the object from the active-voice verb becomes the subject, and a passive-voice verb has no object. This changes the grammatical structure.

Consider:

  • I made him laugh.
  • He was made to laugh.

Notice that the pronoun has also changed form. As a subject pronoun, "he" must be followed by a verb. In this case, "was made" is that verb, which is continued by the infinitive "to laugh." The requirement for chaining additional verbs, in their infinitive form, is that "to" is included.

Consider:

"I would like to go to study to learn to be a doctor."

After "would like," the primary verb, the added infinitive verbs all must have "to."

But when "him" is the pronoun, it is the objective case, and no verb is expected to follow. The "laugh" is not actually attached to "him": it is connected to "made," functioning as a two-word separable verb (a phrasal verb) in which the object is inserted between. In other words, the verb is "to make laugh" (NOT "to make to laugh"). This is why there is no "to" before "laugh." A two-word separable verb, with an object between, cannot maintain that object when converted to passive voice because a passive-voice verb cannot take an object.

It is less common for two-word verbs (phrasal verbs) to have both words be actual verbs, and far more common for the second word to be a preposition or adverb. In those cases where the second word is not itself a verb, "to" would be unnecessary because it could not form an infinitive. In the case of "make laugh," however, both words are verbs, which, when separated by their object do not have "to," but without an object must be chained as separate verbs, and not as a two-word verb. It's one of those two-word verbs which must be separated by its object.

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  • The term 'two word separable verb' is misleading since it implies that the combination concerned forms a syntactic constituent belonging to the category verb, which is not true. "Make laugh" is always two distinct verbs, where "laugh" (or “to laugh” in passives) serves as catenative complement of "make". Thus, in I made him laugh, "him" is the syntactic object of "made", and the infinitival clause "laugh" is complement of "made". And in the passive He was made to laugh "made to laugh" is complement of "was" and "to laugh" is complement of "made".
    – BillJ
    Aug 20, 2023 at 7:09
  • @BillJ I will respectfully differ. I understand that this grammatical construction is uncommon in English, but I see it as still just as much present as the subjunctive past tense--not yet extinct. In other languages, like Greek and Hebrew, there is a class of verbs called "causative" (Hebrew does not technically have verb "tenses"). In English, this "causative" is formed by the addition of "make" to the verb which represents the action, in this case "make (someone) laugh" means "cause (someone) to laugh."
    – Biblasia
    Aug 20, 2023 at 9:16
  • I'm aware that "make" is causative in the examples in question; that is not in dispute. What I'm disputing is your use of the terms "two-word separable verb" / two-word verb'. The grammar of the clauses can only be as I outlined in my last comment.
    – BillJ
    Aug 20, 2023 at 9:47
  • @BillJ What else would you call it? It is not as if "make" is a helping verb. It functions in exactly the same manner as that of a two-word verb. The verb is not "make": it is "make laugh," and the object gets placed between these two words. Other examples of this causative form might be: "make X go" (we would never say "make to go" him, but rather make him go); "make X fail"; "make X boil"; "make X rise" (e.g. make the price rise). In all of these, the object must be sandwiched between the two words of the verb, and the object pertains to both of the words, not just to "make".
    – Biblasia
    Aug 20, 2023 at 10:00
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    I explained the syntax in detail in my first comment. I'm inclined to think that I should have made it clearer that these are catenative constructions.
    – BillJ
    Aug 20, 2023 at 10:04

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