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I was doing some exercises on error spotting and I came across this sentence:

"Iodine deficiency is an easy and inexpensive nutrient disorder to prevent." (1)

The answer suggested is to replace "to prevent" with "to be prevented", as the sentence should be in passive voice.

It occurred to me that the sentence "It's an easy thing to do" (2) is fairly common. Is this sentence grammatically wrong? "It's an easy thing to be done" sounds awkward to me.

If (2) is right and (1) is wrong, then what is the difference between the two sentences?

  • (1) is arguably grammatical, but so clumsy that it's best avoided. 'Iodine deficiency is an easy disorder to prevent.' is probably just within the limits for size here. Go with 'Iodine deficiency is one/a nutrient disorder that it is easy and inexpensive to prevent.' – Edwin Ashworth Jan 18 '18 at 15:25
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    If I were to write that sentence, I definitely wouldn't write it that way. But since this is a multiple choice question and I have to pick the segment which contains error(s), I wished to understand the grammatical rule for changing 'to prevent' into its passive form. :) – Shef Jan 18 '18 at 15:30
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    The original involves tough-movement. Passivisation is not available. Consider 'Phil is hard to please.' How can a passive be made? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 18 '18 at 15:38
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    Oh! I understand now. I checked tough-movement. That was helpful. Thanks! – Shef Jan 18 '18 at 15:47
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    It might be worth noting that It is devoutly to be hoped (that this example will be instructive) is still idiomatically common and natural, as is It is vain to hope (that this one makes things even clearer). I'm guessing the difference turns on the fact that devoutly is adverbial, whereas vain is adjectival, but I really don't know. – FumbleFingers Jan 18 '18 at 16:01
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You've actually got two separate grammar points here. One, as you know is of passive voice, but the other is of verbals, specifically infinitives.

In the sentence "Iodine deficiency is an easy and inexpensive nutrient disorder to prevent," the phrase 'to prevent' is an infinitive. One of the ways we use infinitives is after [to be] [adjective], as in "is easy and inexpensive to prevent," or "is easy to do."*

Furthermore, in that sentence, the primary verb connected with the subject is [to be], which of course is a special verb in many ways, one of which is that it doesn't give the subject agency. A subject with agency (in other words, an active subject) is what gives a sentence active voice. Passive voice is all about using a noun that isn't the agent (isn't active) as the subject.**

When your subject isn't an agent, changing its sentence into a passive one is redundant at best (I question whether it's even possible to do correctly). And when you do change a sentence to passive structure, you do so by modifying the main verb ('is'), not a verbal ('to prevent').

Your original sentence is fine as it stands.

*see https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/infinitive or To infinitive used after adjective

**https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/03/

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"Iodine deficiency is an easy and inexpensive nutrient disorder to be prevented." sounds very clumsy.

"Iodine deficiency" implies a "nutrient disorder", so there is redundancy here, thus:

"Iodine deficiency is an easy and inexpensive disorder to prevent."

or

"Iodine deficiency is easily and inexpensively prevented."

are both grammatically correct and more comprehensible / economical

Mac

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