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  1. People say that he steals motorcycles -> He is said by people to steal motorcycles

  2. People say that he will steal motorcycles -> He is said by people to steal motorcycles

  3. People say that he stole motorcycles -> He is said by people to have stolen motorcycles

  4. People say that he is stealing motorcycles -> He is said by people to be stealing motorcycles

  5. People say that he will be stealing motorcycles -> He is said by people to be stealing motorcycles

  6. People say that he was stealing motorcycles -> He is said by people to have been stealing

  7. People say that he has stolen motorcycles -> He is said by people to have stolen motorcycles

  8. People say that he will have stolen motorcycles by New Year's Eve -> He is said by people to have stolen motorcycles by New Year's Eve

  9. People say that he had stolen motorcycles by the time police arrived -> He is said by people to have stolen motorcycles by the time police arrived

  10. People say that he has been stealing motorcycles -> He is said by people to have been stealing motorcycles

  11. People say that he will have been stealing motorcycles by New Year's Eve -> He is said by people to have been stealing motorcycles by New Year's Eve

  12. People say that he had been stealing motorcycles by the time police arrived -> He is said by people to have been stealing motorcycles by the time police arrived

Are there any rules that specify how the infinitive "TO ..." changes?

Also, I could replace "people say" with "people said" or "people will say" or "people has said." or even more crazier versions. What happens then?

EDIT: In order to correctly form the infinitive you need to take into account both verbs in the input sentence.

People SAY that he STOLE motorcycles -> He is said by people TO HAVE STOLEN motorcycles

People SAY that he STEALS motorcycles -> He is said by people TO STEAL motorcycles

People SAID that he STOLE motorcycles -> He was said by people TO STEAL motorcycles

How does it work?

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  • I don't think "He is said by people to have stolen motorcycles by New Year's Eve" is actually equivalent to "People say that he will have stolen motorcycles by New Year's Eve." Only the latter is idiomatic when referring to future time.
    – alphabet
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 0:11
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    All the transformed examples you gave are strictly grammatical, but the natural way to say them is without 'by people'. I'm not sure exactly what you're asking for though.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 16:30
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    This question is too confusing. You might want to pare it down.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 17:55
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    You just use the verb you used in the active sentence....my eyes are glazing over but THIS: 11) People say that he will have stolen motorcycles by New Year's Eve -> is incorrect. *It is said by people that he will have stolen motorcycles by NYE. You can't use "He is said by people".
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 18:26
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    You already had too many. The problem is that no one uses these extremely awkward sentences. If you say: He is said to x, you don't need "by people", because who else would it be? I'm done here.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 20:17

2 Answers 2

1

You are showing “impersonal passives” for active voice constructions that use reporting verbs (warning: grammar terms vary).

(By the way, we use the impersonal passive when we want to be, well, impersonal, thus we would normally omit the by-phrase agent: He is said [by people] to steal motorcycles.)

There are two ways to render an impersonal passive:

Active: People say that he steals motorcycles.
Passive: He is said to steal motorcycles.
Passive: It is said that he steals motorcycles.

Only the second of these passive forms will work when there’s a modal (such as will) in the that-clause. So your examples at (2), (5), (8), and (11) don’t work as you’ve shown them. Try instead:

(2) People say that he will steal motorcycles. -> It is said that he will steal motorcycles.

(5) People say that he will be stealing motorcycles. -> It is said that he will be stealing motorcycles.

(8) People say that he will have stolen motorcycles by New Year’s Eve. -> It is said that he will have stolen motorcycles by New Year’s Eve.

(11) People say that he will have been stealing motorcycles by New Year’s Eve. -> It is said that he will have been stealing motorcycles by New Year’s Eve.

Also, yes, you can replace people say with people said or people will say or people have said — just follow the above, paying attention to the that-clause . . .

Both forms work here:

People said that he steals motorcycles. -> He was said to steal motorcycles. / It was said that he steals motorcycles.
People will say that he steals motorcycles. -> He will be said to steal motorcycles. / It will be said that he steals motorcycles.
People have said that he steals motorcycles. -> He has been said to steal motorcycles. / It has been said that he steals motorcycles.

But only the it-form works here:

People said that he will steal motorcycles. -> It was said that he will steal motorcycles.
People will say that he should steal motorcycles. -> It will be said that he should steal motorcycles.
People have said that he might steal motorcycles. -> It has been said that he might steal motorcycles.

See more at Grammaring—Passive voice with reporting verbs and surrounding pages.

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  • When I change "people say" to "people said", the forms of infinitives also change. Compare: 1. "People say that he stole motorcycles -> He is said by people to HAVE STOLEN motorcycles" 2. "People said that he stole motorcycles -> He was said by people TO STEAL motorcycles" How does it work?
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 7:29
  • 1. "People say [now] that he stole motorcycles [in the past]". 2. People said [in the past] that he stole motorcycles [at that time]." Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 8:50
  • @KateBunting I understand how it works in 'that clause' but I'm not sure how to represent it in ifinitives
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 9:40
  • I was paraphrasing your sentences with infinitives, to show you the reason for the difference in tense between the two. Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 12:45
  • I can't see any infinitives in your response. You didn't use "he is said to" at all. Sorry if I sound abrupt, I didn't mean to.
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 13:00
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(One note: strictly speaking, "he has stolen motorcycles" is ambiguous; it could be a present perfect verb, or it could mean "he possesses stolen motorcycles." I'll assume you intend the former interpretation, which asserts that he himself is the thief.)

Say is a rather unusual verb, in that it is often used with an infinitive in the passive voice, but not in the active voice. This is unlike the verb tell, which (in the sense of "order") takes an infinitive in either voice, as in "I told him to leave" and "He was told to leave." That said, there are no special rules regarding the aspect of the infinitive that comes after say; in that regard it works the same way as tell.

First, the infinitive form of steal is to steal, that of the perfect marker have is to have, and that of the progressive marker is is to be. That suffices to explain your examples (1), (4), (7), and (10).

Now, perfect infinitives are not subject to the same constraints as present perfects, since there are no "past tense infinitives" for them to contrast with (Huddleston & Pullum (2002)). So, when a past tense finite verb turns into an infinitive, it becomes a perfect infinitive. This explains your examples (3) and (6).

As mentioned above, we can turn "People say that he stole motorcycles into "People say that he has stolen motorcycles," since stolen is the past participle form of to steal. Likewise, when have means "possess," it's past participle form is had, so we can say "People say that he had cool motorcycles before the incident" into "He is said to have had cool motorcycles." But when have is used as a marker of the perfect, it lacks a past participle form. So we can't turn "People say that he had stolen motorcycles" into *"He is said to have had stolen motorcycles" (unless we reinterpret "have" as meaning "possesses"). Instead we just use the ordinary perfect; this explains your examples (9) and (12).

Now, when will is used as an ordinary lexical verb, as in "People say that he wills himself to steal motorcycles," its infinitive form is will, so we can transform that into "He is said to will himself to steal motorcycles." But when will is used as a modal auxiliary verb, it doesn't have an infinitive form. So we can't transform "People say that he will steal motorcycles" into *"He is said to will steal motorcycles." Instead, we have to use something like "He is said to be going/planning/about to steal motorcycles." This is the more idiomatic way of using the infinitive in (5), (8), and (12); I don't think most would accept "He is said by people to steal motorcycles" as an equivalent of "People say that he will steal motorcycles."

Also, I could replace "people say" with "people said" or "people will say" or "people has said." or even more crazier versions. What happens then?

This answer is long enough as it is, but in general, whereas a sentence starting with "People say that he" turns into a sentence starting with "He is said by people to," a sentence starting with "People said that he" or "People will say that he" will turn into one starting with "He was said by people to" or "He will be said by people to," respectively.

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  • So in other words. When we start with "people say": 1. will - no direct form 2. perfect/past continuous tenses - to have been + ...ing 3. perfect/past tenses - to have + past particple 4. continuous tenses - to be + ...ing
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 7:15
  • Also as to the last part of your statement. Yes "People said that he" -> "he was said by people to" but the forms of infinitives also change. Compare: 1. "People say that he stole motorcycles -> He is said by people to HAVE STOLEN motorcycles" 2. "People said that he stole motorcycles -> He was said by people TO STEAL motorcycles" How does it work?
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 7:28
  • My guess is that it works similarly to 'sequence of tenses' but infinitives makes it difficult
    – Kyamond
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 13:09
  • It's ambiguous. It's not an affine transformation in geometry. You can't just expect to shift some of the tenses and preserve the exact meaning without any further clarifications or other changes. How you use tenses depends on the precise sequence of events; it works differently in past and present; and information about precise ordering may not always be present in the original sentence (just as with any other process of translation, information can be lost or you may have to guess at meanings to fill in uncertainties). Solution: write prose, don't manipulate it like code.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 10:06

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