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  1. Mr. Alsop is getting old. He needs to be looked after, don't you think?

  2. Mr. Alsop is getting old. He needs looking after, don't you think?

What is the difference between them and which one is more suitable one?

As I understood both of them are in passive voice.

  • The first is a passive infinitive. I do not recognise the second as a passive at all. It may be a gerund, but I am not an authority on grammar of this kind that some contributors are. – WS2 Jul 10 '15 at 9:28
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    The second one isn't passive. The subject ("He") is performing the action of needing, which takes a direct object ("looking after"). In the passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action, and there can be no direct object. It's true that Mr. Alsop (if he's lucky) will be the recipient of some looking after, but that doesn't affect the voice of the main verb. A passive construction would be something like "Mr. Alsop is needed at the front desk." – deadrat Jul 10 '15 at 10:03
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    @deadrat Many writers including esteemed contributors at Language Log refer to sentence 2 as a "concealed passive". A quote from here "The participle in a passive clause is nearly always a past participle, but not quite always: most dialects of English have a construction called the concealed passive in which the verb of the passive clause is in the gerund-participle form, the one that ends in -ing. Most commonly a concealed passive clause involves the verb need, as in these examples: ... – Araucaria Jul 10 '15 at 14:15
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    @deadrat " "It needed washing anyway'. 'That rash needs looking at by a specialist.' In these examples washing and looking are gerund-participles, but the sense is still clearly the one that indicates the passive — the subject of wash does not denote the person who does the washing, and the subject of look does not denote the specialist." – Araucaria Jul 10 '15 at 14:16
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    @Araucaria Isn't there a EL&U thread on passives? A thread that had recently gotten a bounty? Is this it? How can I reliably and accurately identify the passive voice in writing or speech? . . . hmm . . . – F.E. Jul 10 '15 at 19:05
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  1. Mr. Alsop is getting old. He needs to be looked after, don't you think?

This is passive and is the usual version for people who need care.

  1. Mr. Alsop is getting old. He needs looking after, don't you think?

This is active (for the reasons given in the comments by others). It has sinister overtones to me. It is reminiscent of 1940s gangster euphemisms for murdering someone, e.g.

"That guy needs taking care of. See to it Ratty."

"Don't worry Boss, I'll look after him." (checks gun)

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