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I would like to use the phrase "this question should not be closed" to refer to a question that someone closed—but the expression seems defective because it doesn't get at the fact that the closing already occurred.

Must I use

This question was not to be closed

or are there better ways to express the idea, e.g., 'it should not have been closed'?

Please, let explain the difference between the alternative expressions and give the context in which one should be preferred to the other(s).

  • 5
    It's in the passive voice: "It (the question) should not have been closed"; should + (not) have + be (past participle) + verb (pp) – Mari-Lou A Sep 4 '14 at 6:54
  • 1
    That's difficult to tell without more context, and without knowing exactly what you want to say. I simply offered an alternative sentence using "should", which made more "semantic" sense to me. – Mari-Lou A Sep 4 '14 at 13:53
  • 1
    Here's what I suspect your question amounts to: "I would like to use the phrase 'this question should not be closed' to refer to a question that someone closed—but the expression seems defective because it doesn't get at the fact that the closing already occurred. Must I use 'this question was not to be closed,' or are there better ways to express the idea?" If that's the case, then I think Mari-Lou A's second comment above provide a useful (and in fact dispositive) answer to your question. – Sven Yargs Sep 5 '14 at 15:44
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    @ElberichSchneider It's no longer proofreading. There's not much to be done about the downvotes though. – Andrew Leach Sep 5 '14 at 21:20
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    Elberich "Piccola verifica!" In your bounty message you wrote: This question was not to be ignored so much. What is a better, more idiomatic and modern way of saying this? – Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '14 at 4:05
6
+50

The passive voice in the simple present

  1. This question is closed
  2. This question isn't closed
  3. This question should be closed
  4. This question shouldn't be closed

The passive voice in the present perfect

  1. This question has been closed
  2. This question hasn't been closed
  3. This question should have been closed
  4. This question shouldn't have been closed

The passive voice in the simple past

  1. This question was closed
  2. This question wasn't closed
  3. *This question should was been closed (NO)
    (Note verbs that follow the auxiliary verb should are always in the infinitive. As a result, the example above is not English, it is ungrammatical.)
  4. *This question shouldn't was been closed (NO)
    (This passive construction with the auxiliary verb should is not English. It is ungrammatical.)

'be (am/is/are etc.) + infinitive' construct

The OP's original phrase "It was not to be closed" is in the passive voice. The infinitive passive voice is used to express an intention; command or order; destiny; obligation, necessity or sense of duty when making a future arrangement. This type of construct is becoming rare in modern day English but it is still heard.

  • I am to be married.
  • We are to be married in May
  • At what time am I to be there?
  • He is to stay here till we return.
  • He was never to see his wife and family again
  • Normandy was to be invaded on each side.
  • Hold your tongue,' said the King, very crossly. 'I intend you to behave prettily to her. So now go and make yourself fit to be seen, as I am going to take you to visit her.

Last example taken from Andrew Lang's, "The Little Good Mouse." The Red Fairy Book, 1890

  1. This question is to be closed, and that is their final decision.

Future meaning: This question will be closed. This structure implies a powerful volitive act or destiny beyond anyone's control. Nowadays: This question must be closed, and that is their final decision. OR This question is going to be closed...

  1. This question isn't to be closed, and that is their final decision.

Future meaning: This question will not be closed and nobody can do anything to change that.
Nowadays: This question mustn't be closed,...

  1. This question was to be closed, but they changed their minds.

The question was going to be closed (see No.1) but its "destiny" was reversed.
Nowadays: This question had to be closed,... OR This question was going to be closed...

  1. This question wasn't to be closed but they changed their minds.

Future in the past meaning: The question wasn't going to be closed but in the end it was. In other words, its "destiny" was reversed.
Nowadays: This question shouldn't have been closed...

  1. This question was to have been closed, but I protested and managed to keep it open.

The question was going to be closed but I changed its "destiny". Now the question is open.

  1. This question wasn't to have been closed, but somebody protested against the decision.

The question was not going to be closed, but somebody wanted to close it. In other words, the question's course was changed and now it is closed.


To be perfectly honest, I had to look up this latter construction in order to analyse it. I found three sources which were particularly helpful
1) A Semantic Study of ‘Verbs to be’ in Modern Standard English ... by Hussein M. Kadhim Al-Nasrawi
2) A post answering “It is to be discussed”. What is the infinitive doing in this sentence? written recently by @tchrist.
3) Passive infinitive written and compiled by Richard Nordquist on About.com

  • Without the additional "but they changed their minds," can it be concluded from was to have been closed or the relatively equivalent shouldn't have been closed that the thing was actually closed? I know we assume it, but it seems that all that these phrases communicate is what the appropriate course of action was at some point in the past, not what transpired. – vidget Sep 13 '14 at 4:53
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    @vidget I agree, I felt constrained to tag on a secondary clause in order to make the meaning crystal clear. You could also say: "This question was about to be closed" without the need to specify further. – Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '14 at 5:01
  • Understood. CRGreen in his answer below seems to be saying that of these two phrases shouldn't have been closed communicates that the question was closed. – vidget Sep 13 '14 at 5:07
  • I confess the difference between 4 and 6 is not sinking in. – vidget Sep 13 '14 at 5:08
  • Wonderful answer by the way. – vidget Sep 13 '14 at 5:08
15

This may seem flippant, but:

This question was not to be closed.

= Spoken by Gandalf.

This question shouldn't have been closed.

= Spoken by everybody else.

  • was not to be seems more forceful, a command handed down on ones own authority rather than the appeal to a higher one (morality, site rules, common sense, etc.) that should not have been is. – Wlerin Sep 7 '14 at 21:47
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    To put it differently, was not to be is a decree, while should not have been is an appeal. So yes, the former is what Gandalf would use. – Wlerin Sep 7 '14 at 22:00
  • +1 because we always need more Gandalf on EL&U. :D – This account is dead Sep 10 '14 at 20:18
  • For what it's worth @Wlerin I actually get the opposite sense from what I think you're saying. Was not to be sounds to me both more forceful and certain but also (and maybe because) it seems to appeal to a sense of moral or regulatory authority. Should not have been sounds like a plea or a critique. – vidget Sep 13 '14 at 5:15
7

"It was not to be closed" should be avoided.

You could use sentences like, "It was closed unjustly" "It was closed in err" or maybe, "It was closed prematurely" There's a thesaurus full of words that you could put in there, whichever you feel most appropriate.

"It was not to be closed" or anything with "was not to" (in this form, followed by as past-tense verb) conveys a different meaning. It means (perhaps idiomatically) that in spite of of great resistance, it remained open. In another context I might write something like,

"My brother chased me through the house, trying to catch me as best he could. I ran into the kitchen and tried to close the door behind me, but try as I might, it was not to be closed. He caught me and pinned me to the ground, as he neatly braided my hair".

A similar use of language might be, "He hit the ball hard, and was not to be denied by the keeper".

5

explain the difference between the alternative expressions and give the context in which one should be preferred to the other(s).

This is the main part of the question, so ...

"this question should not be closed" doesn't get at the fact that the closing already occurred.

Right. Let's break it down. "should not be" differs from "will not be" (or "is not to be") in that it introduces ambiguity. Arguably it is a subjunctive example, i.e., (I would argue) the "should" suggests something that is dependent upon something or that is contrary to actual fact. In order to suggest an action has already occurred, you need the tense to change, so

should not have been closed

does this. (Take out the "should" and you must change the construction to "was not closed", which is past tense & unambiguous.)

was not to be closed

Is wonderful, but awkward. By this I mean it illustrates some linguistic mental temporal acrobatics, but is lacking. It suggests that something may not have or may have occurred in the past, but that there was something (or someone), a rule perhaps, or force, or a person, acting upon someone's choice or ability to change the situation. It is awkward (lacking) because it doesn't do the job of telling us what actually took place (in a funny way, it is almost the same as its opposite, "was to be closed", because we just don't know for sure whether it was closed or not). "was not to be" and "was to be" each suggests that the opposite may have occurred -- each suggests a "but" is coming: "it was not to be closed, but Edward was determined to close it"; "it was to be closed, but Edward found a way to keep it open". It reminds me of the expression "I was not to be outdone", which suggests I may have ultimately gotten the upper hand, but not necessarily! Consider also that "the question was not to have been closed" gives us the connotation of the question having been closed at some point, but it is very ambiguous.

or are there better ways to express the idea, i.e., 'it should not have been closed'?

That's it. It is clear that it was closed, but that the closing was not desired (by someone, probably you), or that there was a rule that was broken.

(Since you are concerned with correctness, I'll throw in that "i.e." [id est] is not what you want here, but "e.g." [exempli gratia], because you are giving an example instead of giving an alternate expression. Extra credit.)

3

This question should not have been closed indicates

1) that it was closed

2) you think that this should not have occurred

which is exactly what you are after.

1

"The question was not to be closed" (or "is not to be closed" in the usual, less dubious construction) can only be properly used from a position of authority; consider "The door should not be closed, because I like the draught" as opposed to "The door is not to be closed: fire regulations forbid it".

Such authority probably does not exist in the English language, but it certainly does exist on Stack Exchange; some employees can direct that a question is not to be closed, whatever the moderators and users may desire. A new user claiming such authority (even unintentionally) is both misleading and annoying.

1

..."refer to a question that someone closed—but the expression seems defective because it doesn't get at the fact that the closing already occurred."

The appropriate way to voice that an action had already previously been performed is to use the past tense.

"This question should not have been closed."

This question was not to be closed.

The issue with this statement is that was cannot be used on its own as a verb, as the word "was" is a passive verb used for stating a past state of an noun or object. The sentence should be appropriately appended with a state to give an indication of the reason for which the question was inappropriately closed.

"This question was not prepared to be closed."

Other forms could include expanded forms of the sentence, but the implied reasoning behind the favoured first option means that any other forms of the sentence would need to expand on why the question should have been kept open.

"The question was inappropriately closed." "The question had been closed prior to {reason why it should have remained open}."

0

This question was not to be closed. Possibly underlies the possibility that it is no longer possible to reopen the question.

This question should not be closed. The above-mentionned possibility is less probable in this case. It seems to be more of a constatation.

Both seem honestly okay to use.

0

You ask if there are better ways to express the idea:

It should not have been closed.

The statement is a perfectly acceptable way to express the idea*emphasized text*. Whatever might be considered better, would have to depend on the purpose of the statement. If, for instance, the author/speaker wants to convey outrage, the utterance might be, "The question was closed for no good reason!" If the sentiment is express disagreement: "I do not agree with the action taken to close the question." Each would capture the specification of expressing that the closure already took place. The context in which one would be preferred over the other depends on the emotional tone or nuance to be delivered.

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