to be + infinitive

Status
Not open for further replies.

cuc

New Member
Dutch, The Netherlands
This question "What am I to do?" is from a song that asks for the purpose of life. I am in the process of translating it.

The question in this context has some indication of desperation.
I tried various alternatives:

- Cosa potrei fare?
- Cosa ci ho da fare?
- Cos'è previsto che farò?
- Cosa si aspetta che farò?
- Cosa sono chiamato da fare?

How do these come across to you?
They all are not what I am looking for.

The problem is, that the phrase "to be" + infinitive or "to be not" + infinitive is a bit strange in its meaning.

As I understand it, it is used with other verbs as well and indicates a kind of restriction in possibilities + some reference to an undefined future.

Like "I am to talk" = I am supposed to talk, I am scheduled to talk, I am obligated to talk, I should talk, etc. come close as a description.

Like "I am not to talk" = I am held not to talk, I should not talk, I am in no position to talk, it's not my place to talk, I just won't talk.

Any Italian equivalent to "What am I to do?" would be helpful, even an alternative saying in Italian.

Thanks already,
Cuc.
 
  • cuc

    New Member
    Dutch, The Netherlands
    Non penso che il senso sia quello..

    You are to sit there and not move! = Devi sederti li è non muoverti!

    E' simile ad un ordine, quindi:

    Cosa devo fare?
    Thanks Paulfromitaly,

    I am really happy with the link you provided to this excellent English grammar site. Indeed, it says that the use of "is to + infintive" is similar to "must", however, the link also gives a hint towards the interrogative use, which is not quite an order.

    I want to mimic the same difference between the English alternatives:

    - What do I have to do? (as if obedient)
    - What must I do? (as if forced, i.e. to survive or something)
    - What should I do? (as if undecided about the (moral) right thing to do)
    - What shall I do? (neutral, as if a plan is forming)
    - What am I to do? (as if against all odds, asking for wisdom and a direction, for any useful purpose.)

    "Cosa devo fare?" feels to me closest to the English "What must I do?"

    More of my thoughts:

    The question "What am I to do?" is often posed casual, but it hides deep feelings of possible failing on a quest that nearly has begun.

    It is maybe even a question with no simple answer, while
    "Cosa devo fare?" could have an easy answer. Imagine an answer like this: "Rest a while, tomorrow is another day. We will talk then."

    This answer gives an instruction, like the question asks for. And it could be enough on the question "Cosa devo fare?"

    This is not the type of answer, though, that follows on the question: "What am I to do?"

    I am trying to understand the nature of this question; the person that asks this question is eager, but not hasty, to know what the answer is.
    It is more of a quest for a plan [like in the spy setting], a method, a way of life.

    Cuc.
     

    Pigonthewing

    Member
    Italian - Italy
    Salve, mi potreste spiegare questa forma verbale?
    Ecco un esempio:
    It was not to last for long (riferito alla condizione politica inglese del '700).
    La traduzione dovrebbe essere: non era destinato a durare a lungo (credo).
    Però vorrei capire come funziona questa forma verbale e come tradurla correttamente. Grazie.
     

    TimLA

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Salve,

    It would not last a long time.
    I would not last for long.
    Queste due frasi sono uguali.

    It would not last X. (X=qualsiasi tempo)
    It was not to last X.

    La seconda forma è un po più formale, letterario, ma il sensio è lo stesso che la prima forma (più comune).
     

    AlabamaBoy

    Senior Member
    American English
    It was not to be... (Non era destinato a realizzarsi)
    [It just wasn't going to be...]

    It was not to last... (Non era destinato a durare)
    [It wouldn't have lasted, it wasn't going to last]

    Credo che siano modi di dire.
     

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    The use of be to is one form of the future.

    Here's a quote from a grammar:

    "In the affirmative, it is used for future instructions, orders, arrangements, or planned events:

    You're to fill out this application form and then set up an appointment for an interview.

    In the negative, it is used for (future) prohibitions:

    You aren't to take this medicine on an empty stomach."

    Be to + infinitive

    The structure be + infinitive is used to talk about official plans and arrangements in a formal style.


    The Prime Minister is to visit Africa next month.
    We are to get a wage rise in May.


    Be can be followed by a perfect infinitive (to have + past participle) to show that a planned event did not happen.


    I was to have returned last month, but I changed my mind.


    To talk about pre-conditions
    The structure be + infinitive is common in if-clauses, especially when the if-clause expresses a pre-condition.


    You will have to work hard if are to pass this exam.

    Orders
    Be + infinitive is common in orders. Parents and teachers often use this structure when speaking to their children and students.


    You are to learn this poem by heart.
    You are to do your homework before you can go out.

    Be + passive infinitive

    The structure be + passive infinitive (to be + past participle) is common in notices and instructions.


    The label is not to be removed.
    The missing boy was no where to be found.

    Tenses
    The structure be + infinitive is only possible in present and past tenses. Present perfect or future structures are not possible.


    We are to go on a vacation.
    We were to go on a vacation
    e visto che questa domanda si ripete regolarmente ogni settimana, aggiungiamo anche questo :)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv103.shtml
     
    Last edited:

    AlabamaBoy

    Senior Member
    American English
    In the negative, it is used for (future) prohibitions:

    You aren't to take this medicine on an empty stomach."
    Just a note, it is fairly rare in AE to hear "to have" or "to be" contracted with "not" in an imperative when they are not used as auxiliary verbs.

    An American speaker will almost always say
    You are not to take this medicine on an empty stomach.
    or
    You shouldn't take this medicine on an empty stomach.

    Another example:
    In AE you would not hear "We haven't (any) rooms available." We would always say: "We don't have any rooms available."
     
    Last edited:

    Paulfromitaly

    MODerator
    Italian
    Just a note, it is fairly rare in AE to hear "to have" or "to be" contracted with "not" when they are not used as auxiliary verbs.

    An American speaker will almost always say
    You are not to take this medicine on an empty stomach.
    or
    You shouldn't take this medicine on an empty stomach.
    No wonder since I quoted it from Pearson & Longman which is a BrE dictionary :)
     
    Status
    Not open for further replies.
    < Previous | Next >
    Top