Introduction

Learn how to use Be To and Be About To to talk about the future. Learn how to use these expressions to talk about what is likely to happen in the near future, in formal speaking and writing and in conditional sentences. You will learn all that in this new Grammar episode from English Plus Podcast.

Audio Episode

be to + Infinitive | be about to + infinitive

Be to + infinitive | near future

Use be to + infinitive to talk about what is likely to happen in the near future. You find this is commonly used in news reports.

E.g. Police officers are to visit every home in the area.

Be to + infinitive | formal

We also use be to + infinitive to talk about formal or official arrangements, formal instructions and to give orders.

E.g. You are not to leave the school without my permission.
E.g. The European Parliament is to introduce a new law on safety at work.
E.g. Children are not to be left unsupervised in the museum.

Be to + infinitive | future events controlled by people

We only use be to + infinitive to talk about future events that can be controlled by people. When you want to talk about events that cannot be controlled by people, use another form to talk about the future, such as will.

E.g. In the next few years, thousands of speed cameras are to appear on major roads. (or… will appear…)
Here we can use be to + infinitive because this action of installing speed cameras on major roads is completely controllable by people. However, you can still use will if you want.

E.g. Scientists say they can’t predict when or where the disease will appear again. (not … is to appear…)
In this example, you cannot use be to + infinitive because, obviously, the appearance of the disease cannot be controlled by people.

Be to + infinitive | Future from the Past

You can use be to + infinitive to describe what happened to someone, whether they were able to influence it or not.

E.g. Mathew Flinders sailed past Tasmania in 1770, but it was to be a further 30 years before he landed there.
E.g. Clare Atkins was to write two more books about her experiences in Africa before her death in 1997.

Checkpoint 1

Complete these news extracts using the verbs in brackets. Use be to + infinitive if possible and will + infinitive if not. Use active or passive forms as necessary.

1. John Stobbard has written his first new play for 15 years. Its first performance ______ (stage) at the New Victoria Theater.
2. The new safety system ______ (stop) trains automatically if they pass a danger signal.
3. Stafford Boys' School ______ (merge) with the nearby Bicton Girls' School to form a new co-educational establishment.
4. There are fears that sea levels ______ (rise) catastrophically in the next 50 years.
5. The old design and technology program ______ (replace) with a new computer science course.
6. Managing Director Lars Lindberg, 59, ______ (retire) this summer a year early.
7. As the temperatures fall with the onset of winter, the refugee crisis ______ (become) more severe.
8. Production line staff at the Heathcote garden furniture factory in Northam ______ (receive) a pay rise following a big new order from Italy.
9. Seventy new posts ______ (create) at the factory following a major investment by the parent company in the United States.
10. The recent rapid rise in house prices in the south-east ______ (increase) the demand for higher salaries among lower-paid workers.

Be to + infinitive | in if-clauses

We often use be to + infinitive in if-clauses to say that something must happen first (in the main clause) before something else can happen ( in the if-clause)

E.g. If Lopez is to win gold at the next Olympics, he needs to work on his fitness.
The meaning here is that if Lopez wants to win gold at the next Olympics, he needs to work on his fitness, so working on his fitness is the cause and winning gold is the effect.

E.g. If Lopez wins gold at the next Olympics, he has said that he will retire from athletics.
Here, the meaning is the opposite, in relation to cause and effect, winning gold is the cause here and the effect is that Lopez will retire from athletics.

Be about to + infinitive | Conversation

We use be about to + infinitive mainly in conversation to say that something will or will not happen n the very near future.

E.g. We‘re about to eat. Do you want to join us?
E.g. Appearing on TV might make her famous, but it‘s not about to make her rich.

Checkpoint 2

Choose the correct answer. In some cases both answers are possible.

1. You need to work much harder if you ______ any chance of passing the exam.
2. My sister ______ a PhD in Physics.
3. Mrs. Patel is likely to become the Foreign Minister if the party ______ power at the next election.
4. If you ______ romantic comedies, then this is a film you must see.
5. A: Can you type this letter for me? B: Sorry, I ______ home. It'll have to wait until tomorrow.
6. If Beckman ______ from a foot injury, it seems certain that he will play in Saturday's match against Spain.
7. If the university ______ its international reputation, it must first invest in better facilities for students.
8. Jonas Fischer has denied that he ______ as marketing manager.
9. It started snowing an hour ago, and from the look of those clouds things ______ a lot worse.
10. If the railway system ______, the government should invest substantial amounts of money now.

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