Language Acquisition

Essay One

How to Teach

Past and passive forms of gerunds and infinitives

October 10, 2002

While teaching a language there are factors we take for granted. Sometimes we present a

certain theme/structure to our ESL students without putting ourselves in their shoes, and

assume that they have understood everything just because they did not have any

questions. We tend to forget that sometimes confusion can be the barrier to curiosity that

results in lack of questions from students’ side. In my teaching career, I have faced many

situations that have made me think hard in order to find the easiest or more feasible way out.

One of the situations that gave me hard time was teaching the past and passive forms of

gerunds and infinitives.

Teaching past form of certain irregular verbs can easily confuse students and when it

comes to teaching other parts of a certain grammatical structure that incorporate non-

verbs in association with time, the teacher can see question marks form in most of the

students’ faces and one can sense how confused some of the students are. To make such a

task easier, I always go back to a point of the previous lessons in which students have no

confusion and step-by-step review everything they know in connection with the new,

confusing structure. In this instance, I will review associating the modal auxiliaries such as

can, will and may with tenses; especially, the past tense. Once the students remember the

fact that the auxiliary verb \'have\' and the \'past participle form of a verb\' are the

grammatical tools that help us associate the non-verbs with the past, the teachers mission is

accomplished by fifty percent.

To teach past form of an infinitive or a gerund, I select the modal auxiliary ”may”, for

instance, and use it in a sentence such as ”Mary did not show up at her brother’s

birthday party. She may have been sick.” Although, ”may have been” in the

subordinate clause expresses a degree of certainty of the speaker,(Azar, Betty Schrampfer

Understanding and Using English Grammar, Second Edition,1989, Prentice Hall, p 95),

it is indicative of an event in the past. The dependent clause mentioned can be simplified as

”probably she was sick.”

Now that the students understand the rule, I introduce the infinitive and illustrate or elicit

the change that an infinitive undergoes when changed to a past infinitive. We have the

infinitive ”to do”; for example. Once changed to a past infinitive, it will read, ” to

have done” This is because it is imperative to change the verb form to its third or past

participle form when used along with the auxiliary ”have”. Using this new form of the

infinitive in a sentence will help students understand, so with the help of the students we put

together a sentence that reads: ”Mark appeared to have done his homework before

the meeting.” Circles, rectangles or different colors help the students see the crucial parts of

the sentence structure.

When it comes to teaching passive infinitives, it is very useful that students have a review

of the principles of the passive voice, before we attempt to teach them the passive

infinitive. While writing the sentence formula (be + past participle), it is always good to

elicit the structure from the students. After the students give the sentence such as “He is

forced to work at night.” we can move onto explaining the passive infinitive by

explaining the fact that a passive infinitive always begins with “to be + Past

participle” for example “To be invited to this seminar, you must have a

PHD in education.”

The students will reach a time when they will have to put past infinitive and passive

infinitives together. Teaching this part is not very difficult if the students have a good

grip over the past and passive infinitives. To teach this apparently complicated structure

all we have to do is to write an example of a sentence with past infinitive and another of

the passive infinitive using the same subjects and verbs and on the third line form our

sentence from them. For instance we write:

Bob wants to be called uncle. (Passive Infinitive)

To have called Bob uncle, made Laura feel embarrassed. (Past Infinitive)

To have been called uncle, made Bob feel so proud. (Past Passive Infinitive)