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Is the following sentence acceptable?

He arrived ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to.

It doesn't sound right, but I can't think of any better way to end the sentence.

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to be supposed to do something: be required to do something because of the position one is in or an agreement one as made

  • I am supposed to be meeting someone at the airport.

So, you can understand the sentence by re-writing it as:

He arrived ten minutes earlier than he was required to.

It is completely correct.

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This is perfectly correct. If you don't like the sound of it you could make it more elegant (in my opinion) by changing it to:

He arrived ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to have done.

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...supposed to have done? I don't think this is quite right, I think it should be just ...supposed to have – Armen Ծիրունյան Jun 19 '12 at 17:38
@Armen: different dialects. I think people from the UK like to stick "have done" on the end of sentences like this, where we'd just use "have" in the US. – Peter Shor Jun 19 '12 at 17:53
@PeterShor: Oh, I see, I have been exposed to US Media much more than to British, so maybe that's why it hit the ear wrong – Armen Ծիրունյան Jun 19 '12 at 17:58
Why use "have" when implicitly, the word elided is "arrive?" That is: "He arrived ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to arrive." – Thomas Andrews Jun 19 '12 at 20:11
@Thomas, You could say we're paraphrasing "He was supposed to have arrived 10 minutes later". Also, kurkevan wants this to "sound right" and I don't think repeating a verb in the same sentence sounds very elegant. – Nieszka Jun 19 '12 at 20:15

It's acceptable. "Supposed to" has always looked strange to me in writing. You could extend it out to "...supposed to have." but I don't really think there's much helping the feeling except getting used to using the phrase.

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Is "to" technically a preposition when used in an infinitive? I'm honestly not sure. – Thomas Andrews Jun 19 '12 at 20:16
I'm not either. – shinyspoongod Jun 19 '12 at 20:18
Ah, according to this: grammar.about.com/od/pq/g/particleterm.htm "to" in an infinitive is a "particle." – Thomas Andrews Jun 19 '12 at 20:19
Good reference. Thanks for the research. – shinyspoongod Jun 19 '12 at 20:21

I guess it does break the (pointless and stupid) rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. Despite that, it seems like a perfectly good sentence to me. That would be very hard to re-word to avoid that problem.

You could say, "He arrived ten minutes earlier than he was supposed to arrive," but that sounds clumsy with "arrive" used twice in such a brief space.

You could, I guess, say, "He arrived ten minutes earlier than he was expected" or some other totally different word.

I'd keep it as is.

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How about:

He arrived ten minutes earlier than he had planned.

It has a slightly different connotation, but if you think "supposed to" is a bit unwieldy perhaps this works better?

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