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Thread: be to infinitive

  1. #1
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    be to infinitive

    Hi everyone

    We learn at school five usages in "be to do" as listed below:
    1) There is to be a test next week.
    2) You are not to play in the much.
    3) If you are to succeed in life, you must work hard.
    4) The answer is not to be found in this book.
    5) He was never to see his homeland again.

    I'm wondering whether every one of these is commonly used in usual
    speech or writing. I have not seen or heard 4) and 5) quite often except
    in grammar books. Are they still "alive" ?
    Last edited by Ocham; 11th August 2008 at 4:15 PM. Reason: typo

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    Re: be to infinitive

    One of the most annoying things about English is that when you switch a verb tense or the order of words in a sentence, you can get an entirely different meaning. This is the case with sentences 4 and 5, and probably explains why you haven't heard them.

    The meaning of 4, at least in my mind, is that you may not look in this book for the answers. This is likely something that a teacher would tell you while you're doing an assignment, or something like that. So it is almost implied that the answer is, indeed, in the book, but it's against the rules to look there.

    The meaning of 5 is similar in some cases. It seems that his punishment for doing whatever was that he could never visit his homeland again. I could also picture this one being part of a narration describing someone sailing away from home.

    I wouldn't say that they're commonly used in speech or writing, but I'd use them and I wouldn't consider it abnormal to do so. Others may disagree, though.
    Last edited by Monkey F B I; 11th August 2008 at 6:16 PM.
    "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." - Blaise Pascal

  3. #3
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    Re: be to infinitive

    I'd say that yes, it's very much alive.
    The last two are perhaps somewhat literate, but I wouldn't say that they're even close to extinction.

    Edit: Hmm, I don't get quite the same sense from them as Monkey. I'd derive his meaning from a commanding format, such as "You are not to find the answers in this book."
    "I do things like get in a taxi and say, 'The library, and step on it.'"

  4. #4
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    Re: be to infinitive

    Hello Ocham,

    I would say 4 and 5 are still alive.

    You could find such examples in corpora.

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    Re: be to infinitive

    (4) and (5) are more complex structures and therefore less likely to be found in normal conversation. But they don't strike me as particularly unusual or literary.

    Monkey's interpretations of (4) and (5) are interesting.

    On first reading, (4) tells me that this book does not contain the answer, (5) that he did not ever return to his homeland.

    On reflection, I see the way these could have different meanings
    Perhaps if I had been listening to teachers more recently I would hear (4) differently too.

    (5) ... if someone were to say "You are never to return to your homeland," that would sound like either a sentence, as Monkey suggests, or a prophecy. As written, it sounds like a rather emotive way of saying that he died before he could return.

  6. #6
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    Re: be to infinitive

    Quote Originally Posted by Ocham View Post
    Hi everyone

    We learn at school five usages in "be to do" as listed below:
    1) There is to be a test next week.
    2) You are not to play in the much.
    3) If you are to succeed in life, you must work hard.
    4) The answer is not to be found in this book.
    5) He was never to see his homeland again.

    I'm wondering whether every one of these is commonly used in usual
    speech or writing. I have not seen or heard 4) and 5) quite often except
    in grammar books. Are they still "alive" ?
    Yeah, they all sound natural to me. I'm not sure I'd ever say any of them in ordinary conversation, but I might write them. And I definitely expect to read them.

  7. #7
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    Re: be to infinitive

    They all sound okay to me, although they are all a little bit formal and slightly literary. I also don't interpret 4 and 5 the way monkey does. To me #4 just means "The answer isn't in this book" or "You won't be able to find the answer in this book because it isn't there." #5 means "He never saw his homeland again" with the flavor of that that was not his original intent or that this was a little bit unexpected.

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    Re: be to infinitive

    "Is to..." basically has two meanings.

    It means "will": He is to be found next door.

    It also means "must": "The transfer is to be registered within two months".

    The second meaning is becoming common in modern British statutes in place of the legal imperative "shall", to the chagrin of those of us who think that "must" should be used instead.
    Amo ergo Sum. My words speak for themselves. Between the lines you will find nothing but blank spaces.

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    Re: be to infinitive

    While the structure is natural, sentence #2 is in fact meaningless because of the words chosen. How does one "play in the much"? Was this supposed to be "you are not to play in the mulch"? Telling someone not to play in mulch makes sense, even though it is an odd thing for someone (presumably a gardener) to say. "In the much", however, does not make any sense at all.

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    Re: be to infinitive

    Muck, perhaps?

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    Re: be to infinitive

    Muck would also work -- either in the sentence, or in the garden.

  12. #12
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    Re: be to infinitive

    Many thanks to all of you.
    I'm glad to know the fact though it is different from
    what I had expected.
    (I should have said "mud".)

  13. #13
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    Re: be to infinitive

    Hello there, here is my question.


    WITH A TOUCH of quiet pride the Author states that he has watched the Johnny Carson Show only once in his life. (The single blot on an otherwise exemplary record occurred when I was pressed, one night, into sitting through consummate dreariness to reach the moment when Robert Blake, a friend of many years even though he’s an actor, was to sit and talk to Orson Welles, one of my heroes despite his hawking of inferior commercial wines.(Shatterday,Harlan Ellison)

    If the bold part was "was going to sit" or "was about to sit", I wouldn't have
    had any trouble. In this case, the said "was to" indicate obligation or schedule?

    Thanks in advance.
    Last edited by almostfreebird; 21st June 2010 at 10:36 AM. Reason: adding "Hello there, here is my question."
    If people were meant to pop out of bed in the morning, we'd all sleep in toasters.
    Please correct my Eng.

  14. #14
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    Re: be to infinitive

    It indicates schedule. Nobody forced or ordered Robert Blake to appear on the show.
    Hermione

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    Re: be to infinitive

    Quote Originally Posted by Hermione Golightly View Post
    It indicates schedule. Nobody forced or ordered Robert Blake to appear on the show.
    Hermione

    Hi thanks for the reply!
    So the said "was to" can indicate either schedule or obligation
    depending on context?
    And in this case "was to" is interchangeable with "was going to"?
    If people were meant to pop out of bed in the morning, we'd all sleep in toasters.
    Please correct my Eng.

  16. #16
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    Re: be to infinitive

    And in this case "was to" is interchangeable with "was going to"?
    No, it isn't really interchangable, and nor is 'about to sit', in my opinion, because either of those would indicate that he was waiting for the moment just before RB sat and talked.


    Hermione

  17. #17
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    Re: be to infinitive

    Thanks Ms.Hermione, you're the only person that took the trouble to answer my question.
    I appreciate it.
    This topic(be to infinitive) must be a pain in the ass.

    Good night.
    If people were meant to pop out of bed in the morning, we'd all sleep in toasters.
    Please correct my Eng.

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