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Tell me please what to be means there. Why did not the speaker just say and that is admired?

Wonder Woman has flaws.… It succeeds in spite of them, and that is to be admired, but we cannot start viewing this as the epitome of the female superhero motion picture.

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  • That refers to the entire first clause. We say something "is to be admired " when in fact it may not yet be admired. is to be admired can be replaced by: should be admired.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 19:14

2 Answers 2

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The phrase "is to be" has a meaning similar to "must be" but not so strong.

So, "it is to be admired" means that it must or should be admired. Or, more simply, it is admirable.

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"X is to be admired" usually means, "I know some people admire this, but I'm about to give a reason than they shouldn't, or shouldn't admire it as much as they do." In English we often call this "damning with faint praise"--i.e., giving a mild compliment that actually constitutes a criticism.

"X is admired" would not be grammatical in this context, although it would be fine in a sentence such as:

Sheila is admired by her friends and coworkers.

You could say, "and that is admirable," which carries approximately the same meaning as "to be admired," but sounds slightly less dismissive.

There are a variety of other phrases you could substitute here for a similar effect--"worthy of praise," "no small accomplishment," etc. What they have in common is that they're wordy and they don't indicate that the speaker is joining in the positive evaluation.

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  • I completely disagree that "X is to be admired" means the author really thinks "You shouldn't admire this." If anything, it means that the author thinks X is admirable.
    – stangdon
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 19:01
  • It depends. In this case I absolutely think that’s the implication, and these indirect expressions of praiseworthiness usually carry at least a mild negative connotation to my ears.
    – mamster
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 22:29

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