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Can I say

He is yet to be a murderer.

to mean the he is not a murderer, but very soon he will be one?

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Hmm, but would you apply that same lawyerly-mumbo jumbo nuance to the much more common wording "He is not a murderer, yet" or "He is not yet a murderer"? At least in casual North American English, such sentences would have embedded within them a strong expectation that he would eventually become a murderer. I can follow the legalistic, lawyer-B.S. denial in @Robusto's comments, but would that also be the case in these much more common examples? I am curious... –  Shawn Mooney Feb 9 '13 at 14:58
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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I think this could be construed to mean something different, depending on context. It could actually be a rejection of the notion that the person mentioned is or will be a murderer.

For example,

Mr. Johnson may be many things, many of them unpleasant: a career criminal, a liar, a deadbeat husband. But he is yet to be a murderer.

This means that whatever bad things he has done, he has stopped short of murder. It is the kind of statement a defense attorney might make in a trial on behalf of his client. Sure, he's a bad man, but he's not a killer.

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I agree. It's a great point and definitely valid when it comes to language and I even think I've heard it in the context of law before, but now when I stop to think about it, it sounds awkward. I don't see this coming positively towards the guy. Somehow it implies, in myself at least, that he is planning on murdering someone. Either way, I agree with this answer. –  RiMMER Feb 9 '13 at 12:26
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Agree with both of you. You and I are not murderers (AFAIK). But Mr Johnson is not a murderer -yet. –  TimLymington Feb 9 '13 at 13:01
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The idiom in American English is have yet to VP, as in He has yet to [be beaten at chess/conquer the summit of Aconcagua/try the really hot sauce]. The idiom means have not yet VP, and is negative, as can be seen by the fact that yet is a negative polarity item. –  John Lawler Feb 9 '13 at 17:09
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I didn't really consider the be yet to, and in any event the distinction between official has and official is gets lost in most speech, so it's likely there's a dual idiom with be for every one that starts with have. I agree with Robusto about that. It may or may not go out of fashion in print; but some people are hearing -- and therefore saying, and often writing -- be instead of have. And it's not going to change in speech as long as it's heard. –  John Lawler Feb 10 '13 at 6:01
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I and I'm are almost indistinguishable, and one tends to say or hear I'm far more frequently. That gives it a different distribution than 3rd person. Plus, of course, NGrams are writing only, and indifferently spelled, punctuated, and tagged, so, to the extent this reflects a real trend in real spoken language, it's going to show a lot of distortion, because the occasions and skills for writing that phrase are not the same as those for speaking it. Especially an archaic construction. –  John Lawler Feb 10 '13 at 17:26
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Robusto's answer shows the valid present interpretation of 'is yet to be' - how can one possibly be certain what is yet to be or what someone is yet to do (unless one is a prophet).

However, there is the possibility of using the present tense to refer to a historical event or time interval:

In 1928, Hollywood is yet to be discovered by the Marx Brothers.

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The word yet, when used as an adverb, means that something has not occured at a particular point in time

up until the present or a specified or implied time; by now or then:
I haven’t told anyone else yet
aren’t you ready to go yet?
I have yet to be convinced

In each of the examples, there is a connotation that the situation is likely, or at least potentially, about to change.

Most US speakers would read the example given to mean

He is yet to be a murderer [but I am not sure how long that innocence will last].

If I were to proclaim proudly

I have yet to cheat on my spouse

my wife would take it ill. She expects nothing less than

I have not cheated on my spouse, or better yet
I would never cheat on my spouse.

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