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What is the difference between supposed and expected?

For example, which one should be used in the following example?

I am confused about the two words base and basis. I often use one when the other is expected/supposed.

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@Henry: Nice catch. Kudo to those hanging around both sites. –  Tim Oct 31 '11 at 18:15
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

To suppose something means:

1. to assume (something), as for the sake of argument or as part of a proposition or theory: Suppose the distance to be one mile.
2. to consider (something) as a possibility suggested or an idea or plan proposed: Suppose we wait until tomorrow.
3. to believe or assume as true; take for granted: It is supposed that his death was an accident.
4. to think or hold as an opinion: What do you suppose he will do?

To expect something means:

1. to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of: I expect to read it. I expect him later. She expects that they will come.
2. to look for with reason or justification: We expect obedience.
3. Informal. to suppose or surmise; guess: I expect that you are tired from the trip.

Suppose implies a guess (not what you necessarily think will happen), while expect means that you are pretty sure it will/should happen.

So expect is better in your example:

I often use one when the other is expected.

However, even that implies that a certain person is expecting one or the other, rather than that one or the other would actually fit better. I would say:

I often use one when the other would fit better.

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I've never seen supposed without being followed by to in such a construction. Generally speaking, supposed is never left without to when it has the sense of expected. In the example you cite, I'd go for expected, though correct would be a better choice.

As for the difference between the two words, they are sometimes used interchangeably:

He isn't expected/supposed to arrive before 9.

However, this isn't always the case, esp with some fixed phrases, like:

How am I supposed to know what you wanted me to do?

OR

What is that supposed to mean?

expected would sound unnatural in these examples.

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