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Both ways seem to be used quite interchangeably even though the first one doesn't seem grammatical to me (English is, however, my second language so I could be miles off here). What do you think?

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    I would say "ready for download".
    – Pitarou
    Aug 17, 2012 at 0:26

4 Answers 4

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Both are grammatical. The first one uses active while the second uses passive voice.

He is ready to come

The truck is ready to unload

The truck is ready to be unloaded [by...]

The computer is ready to open

The computer is ready to be opened

When it comes to which to use, I will go with the active one.

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    This answer doesn't explain why the author prefers the active voice option, nor does it even attempt to explain why it is that the object of the downloading is somehow the subject of the verb 'download'.
    – nohat
    Aug 15, 2012 at 16:08
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    @nohat: Read OPs question, please. OP didn't ask for that. Plus explaining active vs. passive doesn't seem be important in this case.
    – Noah
    Aug 15, 2012 at 16:52
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    I think OP's confusion stems from the fact that it's very strange that a verb can have the same subject in both active and passive voice and mean the same thing. Just saying "it's active voice" doesn't really account for the fact that ordinarily the subject of the verb "download" is the entity doing the downloading, not the entity being downloaded. For example, "The dog is ready to bite" doesn't mean the same thing as "The dog is ready to be bitten". But yet, "The files are ready to download" means the same as "The files are ready to be downloaded". A good answer here would address that.
    – nohat
    Aug 15, 2012 at 17:08
  • In the first type of sentence, I think there's an implication that someone else is doing the downloading, not the files themselves. "The files are ready [for you] to download."
    – JW01
    Aug 15, 2012 at 17:29
  • @nohat If the file downloads cleanly, it’s intransitive. If it’s been downloaded, presumably by you, then it’s a simple transitive put into passive voice. Maybe this is more important that the voice part.
    – tchrist
    Aug 16, 2012 at 15:56
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The OED records download as a transitive verb only, but, as the OP has noticed, it is now used intransitively as well. We can say ‘I have just downloaded some files, but we can also say ‘The files are downloading’. A verb such as this which allows the object in a transitive clause to become the subject in an intransitive clause is known as an ergative verb. Launch and dispatch are two more verbs which seem increasingly to allow both constructions.

Careful writers will want to judge how the intransitive use of verbs which have been mostly transitive in the past will be received. Where there is doubt, they might be best advised to be conservative in the matter. In the OP's example, that would mean preferring 'ready to be downloaded', although in that particular case it has to be said that the readers would probably already be familiar with the intransitive use.

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You hesitate to accept the use of the term "download" in the common examples:

The files are ready to download. 

Because you feel that the word is only a transitive verb.

Ex. download the files, download music, download the software etc.

But in fact "download" is a verb that can either be transitive or intransitive. This means that you can use it even without an object.

So:

The files are ready to download. 

is shorter and perfectly natural.

Ex. Anyone who has waited for a webpage to download can appreciate the limitations of data transfer.

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This is tricky.

There is an obvious difference between:

I can have tea ready in 15 minutes. Are you ready to eat?

and

The stew is ready to eat.

Eat has obviously transitive, elliptically transitive (with implied object) (though some would say intransitive), and middle-verb (This curry eats well - compare This Merlot drinks well) usages. Though I think that in *The stew is ready to eat we have an ergative rather than a middle usage (The door shut suddenly vs The door shuts easily).

So, in the two examples above, arguably there are two different meanings for (to) eat:

_to consume

_to be consumed (used only in certain constructions).

The first meaning allows: Are you ready to eat?

The second allows: Is the curry ready to eat? While a paraphrase, from the first meaning of eat, using the passive, is Is the curry ready to be eaten?

Obviously, with some ready + to-infinitive constructions, there is only one possibility:

He is ready to come.

*He is ready to be comed / come. Come doesn't passivise, neither is it ergative.

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    The phenomenon wherein a verb can be used intransitively with the subject of the verb as the patient rather than the agent is known as 'anticausativity'. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anticausative_verb
    – nohat
    Aug 15, 2012 at 16:01

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