had to do vs was supposed to do

Kirusha

Senior Member
Dear All,

Does "had to" always entail completion of the action in question or can it overlap with "was supposed to"?
Below is the example (self-made) which made me hesitate:

A. Do you mean I was supposed to discuss it with their CTO first?
(I didn't discuss it and now I'm surprised that there ever was such an expectation)
B. Do you mean I had to discuss with it with their CTO first?

Does/ can B mean the same as A?

Because to my way of thinking (it might be wide of the mark), C and D are not the same.

C. I had to discuss it with their CTO -> I discussed it with him because I had no choice in the matter.
D. I was supposed to discuss it with their CTO. -> I didn't discuss it with him (for whatever reason).

I seem to be thoroughly muddled up and hope someone can put me straight.
 
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In the absence of evidence to the contrary,
    - supposed to suggests it didn't happen (fully and as expected)
    - had to suggests it happened (in some form or other).

    I don't think it is necessarily confusing or contradictory to override the presupposition, though it may be in some cases.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I agree with Teddy on the whole here.

    However in B. Do you mean I had to discuss with it with their CTO first? the suggestion is that you didn't discuss it with the CTO first - had to here means much the same as supposed to, and the sentence might have been clearer with supposed to.
     

    Kirusha

    Senior Member
    Thank you very much, Teddy and Thomas. That's exactly what puzzled me. I was preparing some materials for my students to teach the difference between "had to do" and "was supposed to do" and suddenly realized that B actually sounded okay to me. So apparently the introduction of a clause like "do you mean" can pragmatically override the general distinction.
     

    Kirusha

    Senior Member
    Let me ask a follow-up question. How do you perceive the difference between the two sentences below:

    Do you mean I was supposed to discuss it with their CTO first?
    Do you mean I should have discussed it with their CTO first?
     

    Linkway

    Senior Member
    British English
    Do you mean I was supposed to discuss it with their CTO first?
    Do you mean I should have discussed it with their CTO first?
    I would not rely on the above two as being understood differently my most English-speaking people.

    If you mean that the speaker had previously been told/instructed to discuss it first, or perhaps there was a rule of company policy, I would prefer the first sentence.

    If you mean that the speaker ought to have had the sense or good judgement to discuss it with their CTO, I would prefer the second.

    But others may see it differently.
     
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