How can I understand if sentences as for example

You have to/must be strong

are observation or advice? Is it entirely up to the context?

  • 1
    We're told that on November 10, 1871 upon locating David Livingstone in Africa, Henry Morton Stanley said Dr. Livingstone, I presume? But he could just as well have said You must be Dr. Livingstone. Which in context would be a greeting, not an observation or advice. In short, context is everything. Feb 11, 2018 at 12:43
  • 2
    You have to be strong, means "being strong is a requirement of external origin"; by contrast, You must be strong, (assuming we're not talking about a conclusion which FumbleFingers exemplifies above) is more about the speaker's requirement; i.e., the speaker is imposing this requirement themselves.
    – user3395
    Feb 11, 2018 at 13:51
  • It is entirely up to the context, and without any context in the question, any other answer you may get is opinion-based. Mar 2, 2018 at 16:02

1 Answer 1


Is it entirely up to the context?

It is. The sentence is ambiguous and can be either imperative or indicative.

In live speech, placing stress on have or must will make it more likely to be understood as a command. Placing stress on strong will make it more likely to be understood as a statement.

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