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"An atom 'is to' become a positive ion when it has more protons than electrons." Is it proper for "is to" to be in that sentence? If it is, would someone please tell me what does "is to" mean in that sentence? I wrote it, it's the answer for the question "How does an atom become a positive ion?".

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    It's questionable grammar. Possibly idiomatic or no longer commonly used. I feel it would be better written as "An atom becomes a positive..." – michael_timofeev Jan 20 '16 at 3:46
  • Yeah, your example makes little sense. – Hot Licks Jan 20 '16 at 3:57
  • @michael_timofeev: It's neither questionable nor idiomatic, but I love your spirit. I do kind of agree with you that the example is not happily worded. Nevertheless, there it is. – Ricky Jan 20 '16 at 3:59
  • Related question, “It is to be discussed”, what is the infinitive doing in this sentence?. – user140086 Jan 20 '16 at 4:02
  • @michael_timofeev I think the linked question in my comment above has the answer. Is to is different from become in a sense that it could have various meanings such as "be going to", "should", "have to", etc. depending on context. I think Ricky's answer is to the point. – user140086 Jan 20 '16 at 4:11
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It is an expression generally referred to as "a future obligation."

This guide is to provide you with all the information you need about our city.

You are to travel to their city tomorrow.

The lazy morons on this team are to blame for the failure.

In terms of strength, it is on par with "it is certain to". Both are stronger than "it needs to," "it will have to," "it would behoove it to," "he is determined to," and so forth.

It can be very useful in questions along the lines of:

Were you to tell me now that I'd be forced to listen to your wife's stories about her family, I'd think twice before agreeing to come along.

Happy hunting.

Addendum:

Your own example is poorly worded. Here's how I would put it:

If this lousy atom is ever to become anything even remotely resembling an ion, then you brainless troglodytes had better get off your fat asses and put in an honest day's work for a change.

  • Are to blame is a nice example. "Is to become" seems to mean "will become" in the OP's sentence. – user140086 Jan 20 '16 at 4:15
  • @Rathony: More like "It's in the works" or "It's part of the plan." A better way of using it would be "If this damn atom is ever to become anything even remotely resembling an ion, then you brainless troglodytes had better get off your penguin asses and put in an honest day's work for a change." – Ricky Jan 20 '16 at 4:28
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    It is very rare that I witness you edit your post. It was real potential blessing from me. :-) – user140086 Jan 20 '16 at 5:33
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Here is another exam I just found online, where "is to" replaces "will" though the time frame is less definite that with "will".

An English exam is to become compulsory for taxi drivers in London.

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