"to be"

I always feel uneasy when I saw “to be” form(such as "He is known to be a doctor.) in a sentence. I feel difficult to find out the exact meaning of that sentence where “to be” is present. So I request someone to clear me about all the form of “to be” can appear in a sentence with the meaning.


  1. “He is known to be a doctor.” Would it help if we phrased it as something like: They know that he is a doctor.

  2. “She is said to be very sick.” ( They say that she is very sick.)

  3. “The building is reported to be on fire.” (The TV news program reports that the building is on fire.)


Hello, Mr. James M,
Your explanation really works. What about the following?

  1. “He is to be a doctor.”
  2. “She is to be very sick.”
  3. “The building is to be on fire.”

I would request you to explain the above sentences in the same way that you did in your first response.

The first ‘He is to be a doctor’ is possible, but unlikely, because until he is a doctor, one cannot say for certain that he will be one.
For this reason, the other two sentences don’t work at all. You have the structure wrong.

She is known to be very sick. - OK
She is said to be very sick. - OK
She is thought to be very sick. - OK
She is considered to be very sick. - OK
These all indicate her state now.

She is to be very sick - Not correct.You cannot logically indicate such a future state.

The city came to be an unprofitable theater town.

Is this correct sentence? if then what does the sentence suggest?

Simply ‘came to be’ - no ‘as’. Better would be: Turned out to be (become) …

Yes, it’s correct.

It means that over time, it became a town known for its theatres, but unfortunately, the businesses (theatre businesses) were, by and large, not profitable, (thus the town itself became poorer).

You need an indefinite article in your question:
Is this a correct sentence?

The city come(Present form) to be an unprofitable theater town.
What does this sentence suggest?

I am extremly sorry. First time I posted wrong. But later made the sorrection. Thanks for quick response.

The present form would be:

The city comes to be… ’

This would only be used in a present narrative form, an accepted literary convention wherby a narrative, such as the history of the toiwn, is written entirely in the present tense.

We need one another to be God’s presence.

What does the sentence suggest?

I suppose it means that we need other people to serve as the “presence of God”. In other words, God supposedly manifests himself through other people.

The courtiers of the time had to be fawning in order to survive in an atmosphere where the least sign of rebellion could lead to banishment or worse.

What does the bold part suggest?

My dictionary tells me that “to fawn” = to flatter someone (“Oh, you are the most intelligent person that I have ever known”) or to be obsequious (“Sir, it is the highest honor in the world to have the honor of serving you. I am an absolute nobody, so I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your letting me serve you.”).

Even today, many people have to fawn in order to keep their jobs in these tough economic times. In American English, we have some idioms which mean to fawn over someone. But I cannot repeat them here, for this is a family friendly website!

Of course, things were even worse in the “old days.” So a king’s courtiers had to fawn over the king. If the king had any suspicions that a courtier was thinking of rebelling, that courtier would be tortured and then killed.

I used to belong to a language forum where one of the moderators wanted me to fawn over him. He wanted me to tell him how wonderful he was, and he wanted me to give only the answers that pleased him. Of course, I closed my account.


I understand your answer. But I am still not clear about the difference between “The courtiers had to fawn” and “The courtiers had to be fawning”.

One more question:
to be treated for cancer

What does the above phrase suggest?

  1. I am not clear about the difference, either. A language coach will answer you soon.

  2. To me, the phrase means: I had cancer. I received treatment.

By the way, two years ago, I was told that I had some kind of cancer. I was told that I had two options: wait and see if it got worse, or get treatment immediately. I chose treatment, which consisted of two months of radiation.


In the passage that you quote, I believe “fawning” is used as an adjective. So, “the courtiers had to be fawning” describes how they had to be, while “the courtiers had to fawn” would describe what they had to do. The meaning is very similar.


I was just wondering whether it would help if we added an adverb:

“The courtiers had to be constantly fawning …”

That is, they could not let their guard down for a second. If they did, the king might get suspicious.

Just wondering.

China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, appears to be ingratiating himself with the country’s generals by protecting the defense budget even as economic growth slows.

What does the above bold part suggest?

I really feel very bad with “to be”.

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