You have to be able to swim to attend the pool.

This sentence is grammatical.

If all were to be able to swim, all could attend the pool.

This sentence is not. But how to explain it from the grammar standpoint?


Could it be that the latter sentense is grammatical but not equal in meaning to

If all were able to swim, all could attend the pool.

  • By explaining that "have to be + attributive" goes together and "be + attributive" is a completely different construction? That in the second sentence you use the verb be twice for no reason, so there is one too many? By making it easier and start with "John is able to swim" vs "John is to be able to swim", where the extra "to" and the _extra "be" are more obvious, maybe? – oerkelens Nov 5 '14 at 12:40
  • The last example is great, thanks, @oerkelens! But "he is to be able" is a combination found at Google Books. – CowperKettle Nov 5 '14 at 12:45
  • Your link refers to a Russian book. But the phrase he is to be able to ..." can be correct. The sentence is not. If you make a complicated sentence, those words may appear in that order: If the child is to be able to learn to be careful not to be left alone, you have to teach him from an early age. There are many many bes that I could add to that sentence, but it won't make it clearer :P – oerkelens Nov 5 '14 at 12:53
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    @oerkelens I've just thought that "John is to be able to swim by September 1" looks grammatical: John should learn to swim by Sept. 1. – CowperKettle Nov 5 '14 at 13:00
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    @CopperKettle Yes, that's perfectly grammatical. – snailcar Nov 5 '14 at 17:45

Consider this sentence:

If all party-goers were to be sober before being given their car keys, why was K. allowed to drive off without being given a sobriety test?

The construction "all were to be {adjective}" expresses a requirement that each and every member of the set "all" had to satisfy.

Put an "if" in front of it, "if all were to be sober", and the statement means:

If each and every party-goer had to be sober (in order to obtain his car-keys, ...)

The result that does NOT flow from that if-clause is: *each and every party-goer could obtain his car keys.

The requirement|stricture that drivers be sober does not mean that all drivers will satisfy the requirement.


Were to be {adjective} <> "were {adjective}"

Were to be = were supposed to be, were required to be.

Those papers were to be on my desk by noon! (It's well past noon, and those papers are not yet on his desk.)

P.P.S. Those papers are to be on my desk by noon tomorrow! (requirement, quasi-imperative).

  • I see! Thank you, @TRomano! It was this question that got me wondering. – CowperKettle Nov 5 '14 at 17:10
  • I don't think this is the same use of to here! In your example, it means 'should have been', I don't think it does in the OP's example! – Araucaria Nov 5 '14 at 21:37
  • I have heard passive constructions such as "If all were to be given the vaccine, we could eradicate the disease* but never "If all were to be able...". I did not know what to make of the OP's second sentence; it made no clear sense to me as a native speaker. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 5 '14 at 22:28

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