What's the meaning of "you're supposed to"? For example:

"You're supposed to stop when at a red light."
"You're supposed to unpack once you get there."

  • 2
    It roughly means "You're expected to ...". If you like something even simpler, you could read it (approximately) as "You should ...". May 28, 2014 at 20:19
  • 1
    You might wish to note that the origin of this particular usage has been covered on ELU, where the very highly-rated top answer starts off by saying This is a complicated issue, and one that is still not fully understood by linguists. The answer is quite long, and makes no concessions to non-native speakers, but it's also very interesting if you can manage to follow it. May 28, 2014 at 20:48

2 Answers 2


When you're supposed to do something, you're expected or required to do something. In your example sentences:

"You're supposed to stop when at a red light" carries with it a variety of meanings and implications: "You are expected to stop", "According to the rules of the road, you must stop", "The police may catch you if you do not stop"

"You're supposed to unpack once you get there." means someone wants you to unpack once you arrive at your destination - it might be the person speaking (your parent?), the person on-site (the camp counselor?).

"Supposed to" can also be used when you talk about general rules of good behaviour, health & safety, or common sense, for instance:

  • "In the old days, men were supposed to stand up when a woman wanted to leave the table."
  • "You're supposed to wash your hands after you've used the toilet."
  • "You're supposed to recycle as much plastic as possible."

In a simple way:

When we want to give advice to anybody for anything when that person is older than us.
We use "You're supposed to+verb+other words" instead of "Should".
We use "Should" to any person who is younger than us.

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