It's hard to me to understand sentences like "She likes to be looked at". I know it means "She likes it when somebody looks at her" but the second sentence is natural to me and I can form it on my own while the first I can at best understand but not create by myself.

Especially I'm likely not to use a preposition in the first sentence so "She likes to be looked"

Also, I understand the basic passive voice pretty well:

I will feed your dog -> Your dog will be fed by me.

I was told -> Somebody told me.

  • So what is the problem? Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


The subject of the infintive clause "be looked at" is understood to be the same as main subject "She". But in a passive clause, the subject plays the semantic role of the object; it receives the action.

So if you can form "Your dog will be fed (by me)" you can form "Your dog wants to be fed (by me)" Or "Your dog likes to be fed (by me)"

Now if there is a phrasal verb then you can treat the object of the preposition as if it was the object of the verb and form a passive sentence. "I beat up the burglar" -> "The burglar was beaten up (by me)" and if you can form that you can form a sentence with a passive voice. "The burglar wants to be beaten up (by me)".

If you can change "People look at her" to "She is looked at (by people)" then you can form "She likes to be looked at."

I suspect your only real difficulty is that in your language there is a verb which means "look at" But in English, this sense requires a preposition.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. Note that in this context "look at" is not a phrasal verb. It's a collocation. Just like "smile at". You can understand the meaning of "look at" by individual words "look" - "to direct your eyes in order to see", "at" - "in the direction of" compare with "come about"
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 21:05
  • 2
    The prepostional phrase is required. It is incorrect grammar to say "People look her" it must be "look at".
    – James K
    Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 21:26
  • 3
    +1 for a rich, easy-to-follow answer, and I think Kyamond's right that "look" is a normal verb that allows [ "at" + noun ] to indicate the object of the looking, and "look at" is not a phrasal verb. The cleft sentence test supports this: "It was at her that I looked". It's a nit to pick, and doesn't detract from the quality of your answer.
    – gotube
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 5:19

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