There is such an example: Perhaps the most absorbing thing in mine is the garden. The garden was to mean more and more to me, year after year. I was to know every tree in it, and attach a special meaning to each tree.

As I understood, to be as a modal verb means have to. But in this example it looks strange in this meaning

  • It's similar to saying I'm going to be sick to refer to a future action (I will be sick). In your example, The garden was [going] to mean more and more to me - at that point in past time the garden hadn't yet come to mean that much to the writer, but he knew later (when writing about it) that it would become more important. Dec 22, 2021 at 12:53
  • Hi FumbleFingers. Thanks for the reply. It's very useful for me.
    – Bari
    Dec 23, 2021 at 17:09

1 Answer 1


That is not the only meaning of "to be to". See this list for example, where definition 5 is the relevant one: used of something in the past to say what would happen at a later time.

Here, the author is describing their feelings about the garden, and how they would change over the years.

  • Thanks a million Daniel. I think I understand now)
    – Bari
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:21
  • Don't forget to accept the answer if it helped you, as a sign to future searchers. Dec 22, 2021 at 11:38
  • Daniel, sorry. Maybe you'll answer one more question. In your sentences there is "would". I know that "would" can be the past of "will". And I think in the 1st sentence it is so: "used to say what would happen". Here, would is the past of will yes? We can't use here "will", can we?
    – Bari
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:41
  • But I doubt the 2d sentence. She's describing her feelings about the garden, and how they "would" change over they years. Thank you (my feedback has been recorded but I don't have 15 reputation to cast a vote)
    – Bari
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:46

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