Be supposed to + verb

“Be supposed to” is a very common English expression but for some strange reason not many books cover this topic. It can be used both in formal and informal speech and I’m going to give you some typical examples.

What does it mean?

You use “be supposed to” when you are saying that other people say so, or think so, or because you have taken an appointment.

1. Often used in past tense

This expression is frequently used when referring to the past situation (it can also be very near past like 5 minutes ago). We’re saying that something was planned, scheduled to happen but it didn’t happen. People thought it would happen but it didn’t.

Let’s look at 2 examples

She was supposed to be here half an hour ago.

She had an appointment at 5:30. It’s 6:00 now and she still hasn’t come. People don’t know why, they are waiting for her. She was supposed to come but she didn’t.

You were supposed to clean the room!

Mum asked Johny to clean his room 4 hours ago. He didn’t do it. The room is still not clean. Mum gets angry and reminds Johny that she asked him to clean it and that’s what he was supposed to do, but he didn’t.

2. In negative sentences

When someone is doing (or wants to do) something agaist the rules, illegal or against the plan, schedule.

Here are 2 examples

We’re not supposed to touch it.

2 kids are playing in the house and one of them wants to touch a precious glass vase and play with it. Their mum told them they can’t touch the vase. One kid wants to touch it but the other kid reminds him that this is against the rules and they shouldn’t do it.

You’re not supposed to be here.

Your friend has told you he was going on holiday to Greece, so you are convinced he is in Greece now. Suddenly you see him walking down the street and you are surprised because he is not in Greece. You say to him: You were going to Greece on holiday, so you are supposed to be in Greece now, not here”.

3. Ironic questions

When someone gives you something and /or expects you to do something but you don’t know how or you don’t have enough tools to do it.


What am I supposed to buy for 2 pounds?

You and your friend want to buy a birthday present for your English teacher. But his budget for the present is only £2. It’s not enough money to buy a present. You look at him with a surprised face and ask him what does he think you can buy for £2. The question is rhetorical and ironic because the answer is obvious: nothing!

How am I supposed to know?

Your friend has asked you a question about how to repair his computer. But you know nothing about computers. It should be obvious that you don’t know the answer. You tell him : If I don’t know anything about computers, how am I supposed to know how to fix yours?”

4. Doubts, uncertainty

When you’re wondering (asking yourself) if a film or something else will be good, and you think it will be good because other people say so or because good actors are in it but you don’t know because you haven’t seen it yet. Probably it’s good but you’re not sure.

Look at our examples

The film is supposed to be good.

You’re going to the cinema with your friend to see a film. Other people say it’s a good film but you can’t know for sure until you see it. You’re saying that probably it’s good.

This mechanic is supposed to be the best.

You have serious problems with your car and you need a very good car mechanic. You ask your friend for an advice and he gives you a phone number to a mechanic who has the best opinions of all. People say he is the best.