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I am to report this to the police.

What is the correct explanation of this sentence?

a) It is a single future obligation for me to report. (Like, I must report this to the police)

b) It is my regular obligation to report. (Like, I have to report this to the police every day)

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    I imagine, for that particular phrasing, it would be "single future obligation" slightly more often, but it would always depend entirely on context (can you provide any context?).
    – Chris Mack
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:02
  • Is it possible to use "be to" as a regular or habitual obligation?
    – Hunter
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:14
  • What @ChrisMack said. For example, the speaker could say I am to report this to the police next Friday or ...every Friday. Although "this" (which isn't particularly likely in the cited context) would usually imply one specific thing, to be reported on one occasion only. Note that report is usually an intransitive verb for such contexts (to report to the police = to present oneself to / check in with the police). Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:16
  • I am to report this to the police every day. or I have to report this to the police. Which one is more likely?
    – Hunter
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:17
  • Hunter - you're confusing "more likely" situation with more likely phrasing. Everything depends on the actual context. Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:20

1 Answer 1

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As the comment by Chris Mack says, the detailed meaning of this very short sentence depends on context, especially what the pronoun "this" refers to. The definition of what "this" refers to may very well be sufficient to determine whether a single report or multiple reports are required.

The conditions of my release require me to submit my expected intinerary for the next calendar day no later than 8:00 P. M. I am to report this to the police.

clearly contemplates daily reports of a single type of thing, namely an itinerary.

I asked my lawyer what I should do about what I saw. I am to report this to the police

seems to contemplate a single report of a single observation. Although there may be additional interactions with the police as a result, the obligation to report islikely singular.

Even with the referent of "this" specified, it may be unclear whether the obligation to report is singular or not although the use of a singular pronoun does imply that one thing or one type of thing is to be reported.

Pronouns have inherent ambiguity if they have no explicit referent.

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