This case is to be distinguished, however, from She was driving [a Cortina], where Cortina is a tradename but not a proper name.

How does 'to be' function? 'is to be distinguished from' and 'is distinguished from' seem to have a very similar meaning, but what is the author's intention to use 'is to be...'?

2 Answers 2


Overall, either "is to be distinguished" or "is distinguished" can be correct.

But, to answer your question, the usage of 'to be' in this passage can signify one of two things based on the context and tone of the writer:

The more likely meaning: The writer is using a guiding, instructing tone, and places emphasis on how the reader should think about the case.

It's like saying "Take note of the difference between these two cases" instead of saying "There is a difference between the cases."

Saying "is to be distinguished" conveys that the reader should actively 'be' noting a difference between the two cases.

On the other hand, saying "is distinguished from" signifies a straightforward, objective tone. It assumes that the difference between the cases is obvious. It is a mere statement of fact, and not the best tone for guiding someone through a tricky topic.

The less likely meaning: 'to be' can mean 'something that is yet to be determined': The case is not distinguished yet, and it is 'to be' distinguished in the future by someone else.

An example of this type of usage of 'to be': "Research about social media use and mental illness is inconclusive, and in order to be more sure about a potential link, more studies are to be done.

  • Saying "is to be distinguished" conveys that the reader should actively 'be' noting a difference between the two cases.=RIGHT. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 7 at 16:55

The passive infinitive form to be distinguished can be understood, in context, either as a statement about the future, synonymous with "will be", or as synonymous with modal must.

You are to be must be praised for your question.

Let Security know that any vehicles blocking the entry are to be must be towed away, and they must see to it promptly.

She is to be given an award will be given an award at the next assembly.

So, in your example, the reader is being informed of the need to distinguish the cases. They must be treated differently.

  • is distinguised by x is passive, so is: is to be distinguished by x. Both would be passive.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 7 at 15:28
  • @Lambie I don't think there's unanimous agreement on that when distinguished plays an adjectival role. The situation is distinguished from Cortina because it doesn't involve a trade name I'd say that one of the adjectival meanings of distinguished is "distinct from"
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 7 at 16:54
  • You say it is not passive and I say either can be passive. "There's the active form is distinguished and the passive form is to be distinguished".=Not true. The active form is: distinguish. We can distinguish the difference between A and B.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 7 at 16:54
  • Would you consider this a passive construction: "That much is understood"?
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 7 at 16:58
  • Of course, That much is understood [by us, by me, by them, etc.]
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 7 at 17:30

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