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Formal English ‘to be’ and the Infinitive with ‘to’

by Mark January 13, 2021

As you probably know, there are different styles of speaking and writing in English – an Informal Style and a Formal Style. To differentiate between the two styles you can often use vocabulary – some words are more common in Informal English than in Formal English; or you can use grammar – things like phrasal verbs are more commonly used in Informal English.

In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at a way we can talk about our plans, arrangements or obligations in a Formal Style.

Plans and Arrangements

So, as I mentioned, we have different ways we can talk about our plans, arrangements or obligations in English. To do this in Formal English we use the structure ‘to be + the infinitive with to’.

We can use this structure to communicate an arrangement or plan

For example:

‘I am meeting Jason tomorrow’ – Informal English

‘I am to meet Jason tomorrow’ – Formal English

In the first sentence, we are using the present continuous to indicate that I have a plan to meet Jason tomorrow, and this is the most common way to express this idea in Informal English.

In the second sentence, we use the structure ‘to be’ + infinitive with ‘to’ to indicate that I have a plan to meet Jason tomorrow. This sentence is more formal than the first.

'To Be' + Infinitive with 'to'

We use to be + infinitive with ‘to’ when we talk about our plans or arrangements for the future.

Some more examples of this are:

Sue is flying to Japan in August’ can be rewritten as ‘Sue is to fly to Japan in August

Both sentences communicate that Sue is planning to fly to Japan in August. However, the second sentence is more formal

The sentence ‘John is getting married next week’ can be restated as ‘John is to get married next week’

The sentence ‘We are selling our old car’ can be restated as ‘We are to sell our old car’

When we use this structure, we must change the tense of the verb ‘to be’ depending on when we are referring to.

For example:

‘I was to start my classes last Tuesday’

In this sentence, the speaker uses the structure ‘to be + the infinitive with to’ communicate a past plan. Because I am communicating a past plan, I have used the past simple of the verb ‘to be’

Here are some other examples to communicate past plans or arrangements:

‘We were to take our exam yesterday’ and ‘the manager was to arrive at 9am’

Here are three examples to communicate future plans:

‘We are to eat dinner at 7 o clock’

‘My parents are to arrive tomorrow’

‘The meeting is to start after lunch’

In these sentences I use the present simple of the verb to be to speak about my future plans and arrangements.

Obligations

When we wish to communicate an obligation in Informal English, we often use the modal verbs ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘have to’.

However, we can also use the structure ‘to be + the infinitive with to’ to communicate an obligation in Formal English.

For example, I can say:

‘I have to pay my taxes’ can be restated as ‘I am to pay my taxes’

Each of these sentences communicates the idea of obligation. However, the second sentence is more formal.

Another example is:

‘Sara has to wear a uniform to work’‘Sara is to wear a uniform to work’

Both sentences communicate obligation. However, the second sentence is more formal.

‘Drivers have to wear a seatbelt’‘Drivers are to wear a seatbelt’ and the sentence ‘Visitors have to sign in’ can be reseated as ‘Visitors are to sign in’

'To Be' + Infinitive with 'to'

We use to be + infinitive with ‘to’ when we talk about our obligations for the future.

Vocabulary

To differentiate:To show or to recognise the difference between things

Arrangement: Something which has been agreed to e.g. a meeting, an appointment

Obligation: Something that you must do, you don’t really have a choice

Test Yourself

1

'To be' + infinitive with 'to'

Choose which sentence means the same as the example sentence.

1 / 5

"I have to meet my new manager tomorrow at 9am," said Tom.

2 / 5

Please wait in the corridor until you are called.

3 / 5

The flight should arrive at 12pm.

4 / 5

"I told her that she had to wait until I was ready," said the Teacher.

5 / 5

You can't take this medication more than three times a day.

Your score is

Thank you for reading our post. You’ll find more English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our English courses in Dublin, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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