any construct getting formal when they get shorter? Normally, when you shorten a phrase, then they feel like informal or colloquial. I heard that 'be to' construct is the short form of 'be going to' in somewhere else. So I was wondering if there's any example of this kind of transition.

  • Can you give an example of "be to ___" used in this way?
    – Era
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 12:45
  • The Prime Minister is to visit Budapest
    – lee
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 13:08

3 Answers 3


Yes, several.

Two examples:

Have you any? is old-fashioned or literary. Everyday versions are Have you got any? and Do you have any?

Had he seen it, ... is formal/literary for If he had seen it, ....

  • Looking at it again, it seems I misunderstood the focus of the question when I posted my own answer. It's actually asking for more examples of contexts where shorter verb forms (i.e. - without any auxiliary verb), rather than the meaning of the specific verb choice made in the example. But what I'd like to know now is whether there are (were?) any syntactic or semantic constraints on which specific verbs can be / could have been credibly inverted in questions. It seems to me that Know / Knew you my brother? were once fine, but Seen you my brother? just sounds totally weird. Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 13:58
  • 1
    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Saw you my brother? is, or was, OK though. Googling "Saw you him" found Lady Capulet saying "Where is Romeo? Saw you him today?" and, from the King James Bible "Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?" Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 14:11
  • 1
    @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica: Seen you my brother? is indeed totally weird, because the normal form was Saw you my brother?
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 14:12
  • @KateBunting, Colin: Ah right. I'm still not firing on all four cylinders! I did actually edit my first comment to include past tense knew as well as know, having realised that I was contrasting it with past tense seen. But saw just didn't come to mind at the time. Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 14:28
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Neither am I! Of course it was Lady Montagu (his mother) who asked for Romeo. Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 15:09

1: She is going to be home by midnight

...is normally a straightforward predictive assertion equivalent to...

1a: She will be home by midnight.


2: She is to be home by midnight

...normally carries the strong implication that...

2a: She is required to / must be home by midnight

This second form is often used when the speaker himself is the person imposing the requirement / giving the order, but it can also be used where the "requirement" (to be home by midnight, or whatever) is imposed by someone else, circumstances, "Fate", etc.


According to "Oxford Guide to English Grammar", the "Be to" is another way to express something in the future, like:

The two leaders are to meet for talks on a number of issues

NOTE: Be is often left out in headlines: The Prime Minister to visit Budapest

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