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be to infinitive

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Ocham, Aug 11, 2008.

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  1. Ocham Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    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: Aug 11, 2008
  2. Monkey F B I Senior Member

    Acton, MA
    English - USA
    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: Aug 11, 2008
  3. xqby

    xqby Senior Member

    Santa Maria, CA
    English (U.S.)
    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."
     
  4. simera

    simera Senior Member

    France
    French
    Hello Ocham,

    I would say 4 and 5 are still alive.

    You could find such examples in corpora.
     
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    (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. losvedir Senior Member

    English - California
    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. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    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.
     
  8. Kevin Beach

    Kevin Beach Senior Member

    "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.
     
  9. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    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.
     
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Muck, perhaps?
     
  11. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    Muck would also work -- either in the sentence, or in the garden.:)
     
  12. Ocham Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    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. almostfreebird

    almostfreebird Senior Member

    Japón
    Born and raised in Japón, soy japonés
    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: Jun 21, 2010
  14. Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    SW London
    British English
    It indicates schedule. Nobody forced or ordered Robert Blake to appear on the show.
    Hermione
     
  15. almostfreebird

    almostfreebird Senior Member

    Japón
    Born and raised in Japón, soy japonés

    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"?
     
  16. Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    SW London
    British English
    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. almostfreebird

    almostfreebird Senior Member

    Japón
    Born and raised in Japón, soy japonés
    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.
     
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