Here is a phrase (slightly modified from the original) that I'd like to discuss.

A) targeting small structures that are hard to distinguish

I have no doubt that this will convey what it means, but I think that the following is more "authentic" in terms of grammar:

B) targeting small structures that are hard to be distinguished

Would you agree or not? Can you explain why grammatically?

I tried to explain why I think B is better, but I'm not sure now.

I think the problem can be simplified to the difference between the following examples:

C) small structures are hard to distinguish

D) small structures are hard to be distinguished

It's about what is the subject for the verb "distinguish". Please help!

  • If you dress the small structures up with a bow tie they will appear more distinguished. – Hot Licks Mar 26 at 1:36
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    The predicate adjectives hard, easy, tough, difficult, and a few others govern a rule called Tough-movement, which correlates sentences like Bill is easy to please and To please Bill is easy (which is also related via Extraposition to It is easy to please Bill). Note that in all of these, it is the Direct Object of the infinitive that is moved to become subject of the main clause. Tough-Movement contrasts with Raising, which moves the Subject of an infinitive up to the main clause, as in Bill seems to like his new job (Bill is the subject of like). – John Lawler Mar 26 at 2:03
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    Oh, and Tough-Movement doesn't allow passive infinitives: *Bill was hard to be convinced; *Small structures are hard to be distinguished. This is because Passive moves the object to become subject, but Tough-Movement moves the object up to the next clause. You can do one or the other but not both. – John Lawler Mar 26 at 2:07
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    Thanks, @John Lawler. Yeah, I thought there was something special about the adjective "hard", but could not think of a named rule. I found a Wikipedia article about Tough Movement. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tough_movement – Kouichi C. Nakamura Mar 27 at 6:50

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