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How can I rewrite the following sentence using an impersonal construction?

Young people are expected to be polite to the elderly.

I think it may be one of the following:

"It is expected that young people are polite / would be polite / were polite / be polite ..."

Which one should it be, and why?

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This depends on meaning, on dialect, and potentially on speaking style. Your original sentence:

Young people are expected to be polite to the elderly.

is ambiguous, since expect has two potentially relevant senses: "to think that something will probably or certainly happen" and "to consider (something) to be reasonable, required, or necessary" [link]. So the sentence can mean (roughly) either of these:

Young people are believed to be polite to the elderly. (It's surprising when they're not.)
Young people are required to be polite to the elderly. (It's immoral when they're not.)

I'm betting that the "required" sense is intended — with no context, it's the most natural reading — but it's impossible to say for certain.

For the "believed" sense, we use the indicative mood; either the present tense (are polite) or the future tense (will be polite) is fine. The difference between the two is very slight.

For the "required" sense, in the U.S. we traditionally use the subjunctive mood (be polite), but I believe that in the U.K. they insert a modal verb (should be polite), and even in the U.S. it's fairly common to substitute the indicative (are polite or will be polite), though I would recommend against that in formal writing.

Another point of variation is that the subject of the that-clause can also appear as an argument of expect, using the preposition of. As a result, each of the following is possible:

It is expected that young people are polite to the elderly.
It is expected that young people will be polite to the elderly.
It is expected that young people be polite to the elderly.
It is expected that young people should be polite to the elderly.
It is expected of young people that they are polite to the elderly.
It is expected of young people that they will be polite to the elderly.
It is expected of young people that they be polite to the elderly.
It is expected of young people that they should be polite to the elderly.

with some of these potentially differing in meaning, and others differing only in dialect and/or style.

Personally, I'd go with "It is expected that young people be polite to the elderly" — it has the most likely intended meaning, it's suitable in formal American writing, and it's one of the options you list — but Friendly Greasemonkey got heavily downvoted for making that same suggestion, so . . .

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    I think Friendly Greasemonkey got downvoted for simply citing the "correct" usage and failing to provide any background information or sources. I actually agreed with those criticisms, but I upvoted the answer (with slight misgivings) because I thought the downvotes were a bit OTT. But I have no such misgivings with this answer, even though I can only give it the same "single upvote". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 7 '13 at 0:48
  • @FumbleFingers - we don't know that's the reason for the downvotes. Personally, I think that answer is incorrect, as my ear finds nothing wrong with, "It is expected that young people would be polite to the elderly," though Greasemonkey's answer seems to imply that sentence would be wrong. – J.R. Oct 11 '13 at 8:40
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    @J.R. I made no such implication. The "would be" option may be grammatical but to me it's less appropriate. It's also unnecessarily verbose, in my opinion. – GreaseMonkey Oct 11 '13 at 10:31
  • @GreaseMonkey - The question was: "Which one should it be?" and your answer states, "The correct answer is..." without really addressing the other alternatives. If you think the other options are valid, your answer could easily be misinterpreted, unless one reads carefully into "more apropos". – J.R. Oct 11 '13 at 12:30
  • @J.R.: "Would be" sounds O.K. to you in this context? To me it sounds very strange; I'd only accept it if there were an implied "if", like, "It's expected that young people would be polite to the elderly if they had a good reason to be, but they don't, so rudeness is the order of the day." – ruakh Oct 11 '13 at 16:41
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The correct answer is:

It is expected that young people be polite to the elderly.

The impersonal form (for verbs) can be used to express operation of nature, mental distress, and acts with no reference to the do-er. In this example, it is not just the elderly who are doing the expecting, so the impersonal form is more apropos.

Edit: I misunderstood the "why" element to the question. Seems harsh to downvote me on that. Anyway, the choice of be polite is the matching tense to the original form and corresponds to the implied expectation of future behaviour of the young people towards the elderly. The expectation doesn't carry the need for "should" or "would" in the sentence.

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    The question also says "And why?". Is there anything you'd like to add to your answer? – snailplane Oct 6 '13 at 18:06
  • @FriendlyGreasemonkey: Hi, and welcome to ELL! Please can you add all amendments to your answer via the edit link underneath your answer, rather than as a comment to your answer, thanks! – Matt Oct 6 '13 at 18:17
  • @FriendlyGreasemonkey: and why is "be polite" the correct verb form, and the other are not acceptable? – fdierre Oct 6 '13 at 18:28
  • Just so it's clear, I didn't downvote your answer. The comment wasn't intended as an explanation of why you were getting downvoted (I think the answer was at 0 when I left it). – snailplane Oct 7 '13 at 11:52
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    @Grease: The only "point" I'm making is that I believe three of the O.P.'s proposed wordings are "correct"; that is, I find nothing wrong with "It is expected that young people are polite to the elderly," or, "It is expected that young people would be polite to the elderly." Moreover, I'm only chiming in on the discussion speculating where the downvotes may be coming from. My theory – and it's just a theory, mind you – is that your answer could be interpreted as "Option D is correct; A, B, and C are incorrect" when you perhaps mean, "While A, B, and D are all correct, I prefer D because..." – J.R. Oct 11 '13 at 14:43

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