This is a common question about American English, even among those who grew up speaking the language. That’s because both can appear in print and sound the same when spoken aloud.
So, should you say supposed to be or suppose to be?
Say What You’re Supposed To
The short answer is that supposed to be is correct.
That’s because the phrase translates into “expected to be,” which includes a past participle functioning as an adjective (expected). Consider the following sentence:
The show was supposed to be free, but they charged an admission price at the door.
This same sentence could be rewritten as:
The show was expected to be free, but they charged an admission price at the door.
You might note that this small shift hasn’t changed the meaning. You may also notice that both “supposed” and “expected” are past participles. That’s why supposed is correct, rather than suppose.
Why Do Some People Say “Suppose to Be”?
At this point you have the answer and knowledge you need, but you might be wondering: If it’s not correct to say or write “suppose to be,” then why do so many people do it?
As with many things in American English, many speakers and writers know the essential meaning of the phrase “supposed to be” but might not always be able to formally define it. If it has been spoken and heard thousands of times without the proper context, missing the finer grammatical point can be easy.
Language also tends to shorten words and phrases when possible. Over time, without attention to proper grammar, such words can become less formal and precise.
While We’re Here
Another word people sometimes have trouble with is supposedly. This word indicates something that is generally assumed, believed, or accepted (but with a hint of skepticism). Here is an example of its correct use in a sentence:
The CEO has called a meeting for next week, supposedly to discuss bonuses.
The writer seems a little doubtful, would you agree?
In any case, you should know that the word supposedly is valid and grammatically correct. However, you will sometimes see (or more often hear) an alternative version, supposably.
This different spelling does have an English meaning (“possible to suppose”), but it is most often used incorrectly as a substitute for supposedly.
As with the difference between supposed to be and suppose to be, it’s not the end of the world if you mix one up for the other. Just remember that clear, professional communication shows knowledge of the difference.
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