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The thing is that I know what kind of problem I face with the sentences you will read below but I don’t know the definition of problem. It is like: I drink a liquid stuff but later I learn that it is called water. So I thought that the most adequate definition could be ‘how to solve two passive voices confusion in one sentence’. Including the sentences below, if you have any idea how to define grammatical problems in English for those who are not native English speaker, please share.

Sentences:

“What kind of things will happen when metallic elements start to be used smoothly in 3D printers.”

“What kind of things will happen when metallic elements are started to be used smoothly in 3D printers.”

“What kind of things will happen when metallic elements are started to use smoothly in 3D printers.”

I am aware that there is going to be, at least, one passive voice in the aforementioned sentences certainly. My idea is: “…elements are started” is correct but for the rest I am quite confused?

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    I'd recommend simplifying: "What will happen when metallic elements are used in 3D printers?" or, "What will happen when 3D printers start to use metallic elements?" (I'm not sure what you mean by "smoothly" in this context.) – J.R. Jul 28 '13 at 20:09
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The answer, I'm afraid, is not very edifying.

We cheat.

We cast at least one verb into the active voice.

One way is to provide an indefinite subject such as "people" or "they" or "we":

What will happen when people start to use metallic elements, &c?

Another is to make the passive subject the active subject of the first verb:

What will happen when metallic elements start to be used, &c?

This is permitted with verbs like start,begin,continue,finish,stop which don't really signify an action but act as semi-auxiliaries to tell you the temporal "shape" of the action verb - what grammarians call its aspect.

Actions and tasks and projects can be "started" or "finished", but we speak of an object being "started" or "finished" only if it is being treated as a task or project: "I started my paper today" means "I started writing my paper".

  • Dear StoneyB, thank you very much for the answer. It is really good to learn these specific verbs which don’t really signify an action but act as semi-auxiliaries. Similar issue with ‘-ing’ for some specific verbs again: Want-ing, remember-ing, think-ing, continue-ing, etc. Apart from these verbs, could you please explain me the pattern for two passive voices in one sentence? ‘am/is/are + past participle + ???’ and give an example? – ToksozC Jul 28 '13 at 15:41
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    @ToksozC (WARNING: off the top of my head!) This probably only arises with so-called catenative verbs like want, think and the others you name. When these are "chained" (as in We want him to be elected the object of the first verb (want) is not the subject (him) of the second verb (elect) but the entire clause. Consequently, you can't make him the subject of a passive want. In the same way, metallic elements can't be the subject of passive start. – StoneyB Jul 28 '13 at 15:56
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You have a question with a clause:

...when metallic elements start to be used smoothly in 3D printers

This clause has another clause in it:

in 3D printers

Let's ignore that clause for now and focus on

metallic elements start to be used smoothly

This is a passive version of:

[Implied subject] starts to use metallic elements

This can be changed to:

[Implied subject] starts using metallic elements

Now reversing our simplification we get:

metallic elements start being used smoothly

and in context:

What kind of things will happen when metallic elements start being used smoothly in 3D printers?

Note however this still has a grammatical error, in that "kind" doesn't match in number with "things" so to be grammatically correct it would be:

What kinds of things will happen when metallic elements start being used smoothly in 3D printers?

Also, metallic elements refer to the pure elements like iron, but do not include substances like steel, which is an alloy of iron and carbon. I believe the intent was to include substances like steel so perhaps "metal" would be more appropriate.

What kinds of things will happen when metal starts being used smoothly in 3D printers?

Or here's a complete rephrasing:

How will the emergence of 3D printers capable of smoothly printing metal affect xyz

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