Non-finite verbs can show voices as finite verbs do, but in some cases they seems to be without subject, so what are their voices? Are they just not showing voices?

For example,

“this was my first time seeing Disney Land”

“I am excited to see this”

What are the voices of these two non-finite verbs? I thought they were active but my Professor said they were not.Miner

  • 2
    Consider: what is the voice of "this is my first time being seen" and "I am excited to be seen"?
    – Draconis
    Nov 10, 2022 at 19:01
  • Or have a look at languages where voice is marked on the verb itself: are the non-finite forms specified for voice?
    – Keelan
    Nov 10, 2022 at 19:55
  • 1
    Imfinitives in Latin are certainly marked for voice.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 10, 2022 at 23:30
  • 2
    First, not all languages even have a concept of "subject"; language families with ergative systems, like Mayan, Australian, or Caucasian, have ergatives but no subjects. Second, not all languages have a passive/active distinction, though they may well have nonfinite verbs.
    – jlawler
    Nov 11, 2022 at 0:25
  • 2
    Your professor is wrong. Your examples are both active voice. Passive clauses contain a past participle verb, so the clause that is complement of "be" is always non-finite. Note that most non-finite clause have no overt subject.
    – BillJ
    Nov 11, 2022 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


The answer will, rather obviously, differ from language to language. In principle, non-finite form can contain very little of clausal structure (see Wurmbrand's dissertation, for instance), in particular, not covering Voice.

However, your examples, as @Draconis has shown, do not belong to that category: in this place, passive can be used ("I am excited to be seen" and stuff), and thus non-passive forms can safely be deemed active, your professor being plainly wrong.


Consider: what is the voice of "this is my first time being seen" and "I am excited to be seen"?

I've considered and these sentences are also active. (Also, they state different things so in terms of voice, there is no point comparing them with the original sentences). The syntactic active/passive contrast in English is all about turning the head verb of the predicate into be + past participial form of that same verb. (There are a couple verbs that express the same semantic contrast using -ing forms, and also there are "bare passives" and "get passives", but centrally active/passive contrast is expressed by this simple transformation.)

So, we need to identify the clause that is headed by the verb that undergoes this transformation. It obviously cannot be the main verb "be", so we need to look into the subordinate clause. In the first example, it is the participial clause headed by the verb "seeing". The aspect information has to be transferred to the first verb, which is now the passive auxiliary "be" and we have : seeing --> being seen. In the next step we'll have to switch the roles of the participants, which is the whole purpose of this transformation. In this case the object of the non-finite clause "Disneyland" becomes the subject of the corresponding passive clause: "Disneyland's first time being seen". This clause stands in voice contrast with the active "My first time seeing Disneyland". This doesn't affect the voice status of the main clause: "This was my first time seeing Disneyland" is active and so is "This was Disneyland's first time being seen"

The genitive "my" functions both as the determiner in the noun phrase, and as the understood subject of the participial clause. The voice contrast it enters makes a good case for analyzing it as the ultimate subject of the non-finite clause.

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