Understanding English Grammar – to be + infinitive

I’d like to ask a question about the grammar structure of am/is/are to + verb and was/were to verb. I am not able to understand the purpose/meaning of this structure. Please give me some examples about how I can use it and what it means.

The usual idea of to be + to infinitive is to talk about definite plans and arrangements in the future.

  • The election is to take place on October 2nd.
  • Sarah is to start her new job on the first of December.

We can also use ‘going to’ for future plans and the present continuous for future arrangements. By using this form, we are emphasizing the DEFINITE nature of the plan or arrangement.

We can use it to talk about past plans.

  • He was to start last Monday but he changed his mind at the last minute.
  • The carnival was to take place in February but it was canceled because of the floods.

The past form can also be used to describe fate or what happened later.

  • The peace talks were to end in failure when the sides couldn’t agree.
  • Simon was to die before he achieved his objective.

Sometimes, it can mean a duty, the same as ‘must’.

  • You are to arrive by 8.30 at the latest.
  • I am to remind you that no smoking is permitted in the building.

10 thoughts on “Understanding English Grammar – to be + infinitive”

  1. Thank you so much. I always follow your post. You are great teacher. This info really helped me so much.

  2. One point is not clear. Does ‘The peace talks were to end in failure when the sides couldn’t agree.’ leaves the chance that ‘talks’ did not end in failure, e.g. ‘The peace talks were to end in failure when the sides couldn’t agree. But one event changed the situation.’

    And how does ‘set’ changes the sense of the sentence:
    ‘The peace talks were set to end in failure when the sides couldn’t agree.’?

    1. ‘were to’ implies that it did happen

      ‘were set to’ implies that it was going to happen but then something changed it Here, ‘set’ means to have a strong opinion on something.

  3. Could it be concluded that the peace talks were successful if we said:’the peace talks were to have ended in failure…but at the end…’?Thank you very much in advance

    1. That doesn’t sound very natural to me. ‘The talks appeared to be heading for failure’ sounds much beter.

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