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)












Using