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    #1

    "BE TO" to express necessity

    Dear teachers,

    What are the different uses / meanings of "BE TO" in the present and past?
    Are my interpretations correct?

    1) I am to tidy up my room before my mother gets back.
    = I will have to do it (obligation given my an external authority)

    2) I were to tidy up my room before my mother got back.
    = I had to do it (but the interlocutor doesn't know if the speaker did tidy up his room or not)

    3) I were to have tidied up my room before my mother got back.
    = I had to do it but I didn't.

    Thank you in advance,
    Hela

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    #2

    Re: "BE TO" to express necessity

    Hello Hela, how are you?

    Your sentences and interpretations are fine, for BrE at least, except that you need to use the indicative:

    1) I am to tidy up my room before my mother gets back.
    = I will have to do it (obligation given my an external authority)
    2) I was to tidy up my room before my mother got back.
    = I had to do it (but the interlocutor doesn't know if the speaker did tidy up his room or not)
    3) I was to have tidied up my room before my mother got back.
    = I had to do it but I didn't.

    It's possible that some speakers would use #3 with the sense of #2; but I think your interpretation would hold in most cases.

    See you,
    MrP

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    #3

    Re: "BE TO" to express necessity

    Dear MrP, yes I meant the indicative, sorry.
    Would you have more examples for me where the difference between #2 and #3 is clear?

    One more point, if I say:

    4) "I HAD to tidy up my room..." = past obligation and the action was performed

    whether if I say:

    2 + 3) "I WAS to tidy up / I WAS TO HAVE tidied up..." = past obligation / expectation (?) but the action was not performed.

    Could it be that if we use the first personal pronoun with "bo to + present infinitive" it seems clear that the subject didn't perfom the obligation. "I was to cook dinner last night." = I didn't ?

    Whether if we use other personal pronouns there could be doubt about the performance?
    "They were to stop off in Paris / Mary was to cook dinner last night" = we don't know if the actions were performed or not?

    Have a nice day,
    Hela
    Last edited by hela; 05-Apr-2006 at 07:42.

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    #4

    Re: "BE TO" to express necessity

    Hello Hela

    4) "I HAD to tidy up my room..." = past obligation and the action was performed

    On the whole, I would agree: it does usually suggest that the action was performed. However, sometimes only the context will determine whether the action was performed, e.g.

    4a) "I looked round my flat. What a mess. I had to tidy it up. But I also had to meet Zéphirine at 6. And it was already five-thirty..."

    — here, the obligation is self-imposed; and it looks as if he isn't going to tidy his flat (though he still might!).

    4b) "My landlady was still shouting at me up the stairs. I had to get rid of the wet washing on the balcony. I had to get rid of all the beer bottles under the bed. Most of all, I had to get rid of Carl, who was still asleep on the sofa. But I also had to meet Zéphirine at 6. And it was already five-thirty..."

    — here, the first obligation is external; and it's disguised reported speech. And again, it looks as if he isn't going to tidy the flat...

    Back soon...

    MrP

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    #5

    Re: "BE TO" to express necessity

    2) "I WAS to tidy up..."

    3) "I WAS TO HAVE tidied up..." = past obligation / expectation (?) but the action was not performed.

    With #2, it's often the case that the action wasn't performed (cf. "I was supposed to do XYZ", "I was meant to do XYZ"). But again, in certain contexts, it might be otherwise, esp. where it's in effect disguised reported speech:

    2a) "It was my first morning in my new job. I was to distribute the post, check the stationery cupboard, order supplies, make the coffee, and take delivery of MrQ's new company car..."

    — here, we have no reason to believe that the speaker didn't do all those things. He's simply reporting what his tasks were at that time.

    With #3, on the other hand, the perfect infinitive indicates:

    3a) I was (supposed) to have tidied up my room (by that time)...

    The most likely continuation is indeed "but [reason why I hadn't]"; it would sound a little odd if the speaker continued "and in fact, I had tidied up my room by that time".

    I think your point about the 2nd/3rd person is valid:

    4. Come here, Mary-Anne. You were to clean my shoes, make the bed, and clean the kitchen. Now, have you done all three?

    5. As far as I know, he was to take the package in question, and post it before midday. He was then to drive to Dover, and catch the last ferry to Dieppe. On arrival in Dieppe, he was to contact Gustave, and await further instructions. But whether he did or not, I have no idea.

    It's a treacherous little construction: to my mind, it often has an air of reported speech, since it reports instructions.

    MrP

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    #6

    Re: "BE TO" to express necessity

    Thanks MrP, I study your comments carefully.

    Have a nice day!

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