What is the difference in the meaning between following sentences:

  1. Riya was to pick strawberries yesterday but the downpour made the field too muddy. (source: modified from example from BBC learn English)

  2. Riya was going to pick strawberries yesterday but the downpour made the field too muddy.

I've learned tha 'was to' is used for past plan'. But 'was going to' is also about past plan. So which form is used for past plan. So, what is the differences between the construction was/were to ... and going to ... ?

Note: I asked a similar question about the difference between “was to...” and “was to have” here, but this question is about “was to” and “was going to.”

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    I highly suggest reading about the grammar of verbs and about verb tenses and constructions at The English Club. Reading a systematic overview of these things will help you more than asking about random differences. May 29, 2016 at 13:47
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    I don't understand the downvotes. The linked question is completely different, and I can think of many contexts where native speakers might waver between was to and had to in respect of an "expected" activity that wasn't (or might not have been) in fact carried out. So despite what I wrote in the first line of my answer, not everyone gets the usage "right" every time (which by my lights implies there's at least a bit of "wiggle room" as regards the verb choice). May 29, 2016 at 14:53
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    @Rathony: Firstly, we're only concerned with the current version of the earlier question for dup vtc purposes. Second, I have just looked at the "original original", which contrasts Ram was to have picked with Ram was to pick, and I have to say that's a totally different use of the verb to have. It has no connection at all to the current question (this one is about to have to, with implied obligation - a completely different usage). May 29, 2016 at 15:17
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    @FumbleFingers I couldn't agree more. May 29, 2016 at 15:21
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    @Rathony: Now I'm completely lost. Are you still maintaining this question should be closed as a dup? If so, I see no point in my refuting that again in different words. If not, why drag up the (fact?) that this OP was warned about posting the same question before? Perhaps OP has learned to post better / more distinct questions as a result of earlier warnings. As regards "explaining" pre-edit dup vtc's, all I can say is I've now looked pretty carefully at all versions of both questions, and quite frankly I don't think there was ever a time when they were "duplicates". Sloppy voting, imho. May 29, 2016 at 15:52

1 Answer 1


The difference is quite straightforward. Simplifying the examples,

1: Riya was to leave today - it was intended that she leave today (but she might not have left).
2: Riya had to leave today - it was unavoidable that she leave today (so she must have left).

It might help to think of #1 as a "reduced" form of Riya was expected to leave (or ...due to leave).

In practice the construction in #1 would only normally be used in contexts where the activity didn't in fact take place as scheduled (or where there's now some uncertainty as to whether it will or not). There's no such implication with Present Tense, so She is to leave today is just a simple assertion of what's expected to happen. We don't normally make statements about what was expected to happen in the past unless it didn't happen (if it did happen, we just say it happened).

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