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Which one of these sentences is correct?

  • The palace took several years to build.

or

  • The palace took several years to be built.

I heard the first one while I was watching Discovery Channel and I think it is not correct because the palace did not build on its own – someone had to build it. So the passive form seems the correct sentence.

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Both sentences are grammatical, but the non-passive form is much more common according to Google:

  • "It took several years to build but*" (5,800 hits)

  • "It took several years to be built" (4 hits)

In the entry on the use of the verb take meaning "how much time we need to do something" Swan in Practical English Usage (p570) lists five common structures. One of them is:

The object of the activity is the subject.

object of activity + take (+ person) + infinitive

  • The ferry took (them) two hours to unload.

  • This house will take all week to clean.

The palace took several years to build follows the same structure.


* Note: I included the word but to rule out hits with a direct object following build.

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  • Thank you so much for the answer. Can you please provide links to websites which could elaborate this sentence structure so that i can learn more about it. – kuldeep sharma Oct 17 '17 at 2:59
  • I'm not sure that an unsupported " 'It took several years to be built' is grammatical" is justifiable. 'It took longer than we thought to cook' is fine, whereas 'It took ages to get right' cannot be replaced by 'it took ages to be got right', nor 'my leg took months to heal' by 'my leg took months to be healed'. The actual verb following to / to be is critical. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 26 '20 at 11:58
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    @Edwin Ashworth. The passive form (to be built / to be got right) certainly seems less natural. But ungrammatical? The notion itself is based on linguistic intuition, which obviously varies from individual to individual. In the present case, it seems to me that the passive form focuses somewhat more on the completion of the activity and the infinitive form on the duration. But I have no evidence to back up this interpretation. – Shoe Jun 27 '20 at 7:24
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Both are correct and both sound natural.

The palace took several years to build. This uses the intransitive sense of to build.

The palace took several years to be built. This uses the transitive sense of to build in a passive construction.

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    No. The idiom using '... years to build' sounds far more natural, and is far more commonly used, as these Google Ngrams suggest extremely strongly. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '17 at 8:53
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    @EdwinAshworth, not a good test. It will capture things like "it took five years to build the company / the boat / the community," which is grammatically different. In any case to be built IS natural-sounding English even if one form of the two may be more idiomatic than the other. There may be shades of meaning between the two as well perhaps making one better than the other in particular cases. – dangph Oct 16 '17 at 10:03
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    OK; I'll just say the second one doesn't sound natural. I'll offer the same degree of support as you do. Zero. // I just can't do that. Have a look at raw Google searches for building took years to be built and "building took years to build". – Edwin Ashworth Oct 16 '17 at 11:51

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