I have read this phrase in a Book(American Gods): “If you are to survive, you must believe"

And it sounds very strange to me.

I actually didn't get the actual meaning of the phrase.

This sentence: "If you are to survive" feels like it's lacking a word.

I believe the missing word is "willing" but I hope someone could explain why the writer chose to suppress this word, and if this is a grammatically correct phrase.

  • 1
    It means if you don’t believe, you won’t survive, so to survive, you must believe. Regarding are to, no word is missing: think of it as if the future state of the world contains you, alive and well, then the present state of the world must contain you believing. It’s this “future state of the world” projection that are to sets up. It’s idiomatic and fine for a native speaker. Unfortunately, I’m useless in explaining it in syntatic terms.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 19, 2018 at 11:57

3 Answers 3


"be" + to + infinitive verb Is used to talk about the future

From Merriam Webster dictionary 4—used with the infinitive with to to express futurity, arrangement in advance, or obligation I am to interview him today she was to become famous

Phrasing a sentence about the future in this way can convey considered deliberate thought, planning, a sense of intention... when thinking about the future. (As in the quoted passage.). It shouldn't be used when someone is just being wishful.


@DanBron is correct. The construction is fine. It is idiomatic. There are times when the use of 'if' (or similar) establishes something is in the future which then allows a lazy, ungrammatical use of a present tense to sound natural. It is one of the weirder ones in our language. :(

  • Haha, it's weird for me to say I disagree with a post that explicitly says it agrees with me. But I disagree with this post, because I do not think the construction is ungrammatical. If it's idiomatic, it's grammatical (history has not been kind to the prescriptivist camp).
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 19, 2018 at 13:27
  • @Dan Bron So why haven't you downvoted? Jan 19, 2018 at 15:17
  • @EdwinAshworth Because the answer says “the construction is fine”, which is the correct bottom line. The phantom upvote for that cancelled the phantom downvote for “ungrammatical”.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 19, 2018 at 15:21
  • @Dan Bron An answer that states that something is ungrammatical but fine needs downvoting. I could go with 'extra-grammatical but fine', but this example is grammatical. Jan 19, 2018 at 15:52
  • @EdwinAshworth I disagree that the answer needs downvoting. But you have he right to cast your vote however you like. Maybe others will join you. But I also disagree with “extra-grammatical”; I’m not a syntatician and I can’t explain what’s going on in grammatical terms, but the construction is perfectly fine and common, and has no grammatical issues whatsoever. That there are yet more common ways to construct it does not cast any doubt on its own grammaticality.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 19, 2018 at 16:45

This sentence is fine, however this structure is not commonly used in everyday speech in the present day. It is much more common to find this in books etc written in the past, or in present day quotes as it seems quite formal.

You are quite right that you can add a verb in the sentence and it would make perfect sense, however it is still grammatically correct without. For example: “If you are (going) to survive, you must believe".

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