My question touches on the following set-phrases which are: would-be someone, someone in-the-making, someone-to-be. I think they all have something common to share in their meanings.

The first problem which I have with “would-be” is that it has two substantial meanings such as:

1) • wishing or pretending to be: a would-be expert (a person who is not really the one he or she poses as. In other words, a phony someone, a so-called someone).

2) • attempting or desiring something Would-be marines have to get through a rigorous examination. (a person who wants to be someone)

The examples and definition are taken from here http://www.yourdictionary.com/would-be (there are more definitions there but these two are the most problematic for me)

I found those two definitions quite contradicting to each other as pretending to be someone is nothing close to desiring to be someone at least in a moral aspect.

Now my question is how to tell one from the other.

How can I know that in “Would-be marines have to get through a rigorous examination” we deal with the marines who desire to become real marine and not with the ones who pretend to be marines. Of course, this issue is not limited by this example as this ambiguity remains all the time in all examples possible. Any treatment?

The second issue deals with “someone in the making” Is it always used figuratively only? If I say “he is a doctor/actor/musician in the making” can it really mean that he studies to be one of those or does it only mean that he acts as if he is one of those but in practice he is not involved into official studies which would certify him as being a doctor/actor/musician one day? Or can it mean both at the same time?

The third issue is about someone-to-be I heard that “someone-to-be” should be limited by kin relationships only. It means that “a mother-to-be” is OK. But it’s not OK to say “He is a doctor-to-be”? Is it so or not? Would it change anything in the issue if I said “He is a-soon-doctor-to-be?” Does the word soon allow to use this phrase outside of kin relationships or not?


1 Answer 1


Would-be marines have to get through a rigorous examination.

You cannot tell with this sentence alone if the attempt is real or not. More context is needed.

He is a doctor/actor/musician in the making.

This is OK, but with actual professions, I would use words like "training". For example:

He is a doctor/actor/musician in training.

in the making refers more to the overall qualities of the individual involved, while in training refers more to the specific training involved.

He is a-soon-doctor-to-be.

is incorrect word order. You might say:

He is a soon to be doctor.

though more often you would see:

He will be a doctor soon.
She will be a mother soon.

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