Grammar Guru: is to or has to?

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Newspapers like the New York Times are reporting that Obama wants to introduce $1.5 trillion in new taxes to help reduce the country’s debt. Combined with his new $450 billion stimulus plan, he is taking a more populist approach to confronting the nation’s economic problems. He wants to call it the “Buffett Rule” for Warren Buffett, who complains that Congress is “coddling billionaires” like him.

Obama to seek new tax rate
(Washington Post news video)

“President Barack Obama is expected to seek a new base tax rate for the wealthy to ensure that millionaires pay at least at the same percentage as middle income taxpayers. The proposal will be officially unveiled on Monday. (Sept. 18)”

The headline refers to Obama’s plan to do something. So which word is missing here, is or has?

Obama _________to seek a new tax rate


2 Responses

  1. The sentence structure is incorrect, however, for fun: (is) would be used (3rd person singular present indicative) The grammatically proper sentence structure should be: Obama will seek a new tax rate.

  2. Hi Ken,
    Thanks so much for your comment, and you’re absolutely right, “to” would be used.

    But in fact the structure is quite correct! Putting on my teacher’s hat:

    * “He has to do it” expresses his obligation.
    * “He is to do it” expresses our expectation based on a previous announcement, decree or notification.

    If it has been decreed, “he is to…” can also contain a sense of obligation.

    That’s the form we find in the minutes of a meeting, where it is also used without the verb :
    *”Ken to call the printers”
    It has been decided and decreed, and Ken has been notified, so he now has to call the printers. And we expect it!

    It’s a highly formalized expression, though! That’s why this sounds so very wrong, and would be completely inapropriate:
    * I am to get back to work now.
    It sounds like something a robot in a pre-determined science fiction world with a philosophy of mind would say!

    Me, I just say: I’m going to get back to work now.


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