I've been recently writing a technical document and I wrote something like
It has to be possible to come back to the old version. (paraphrasing here, but I think sense is conveyed)

However MS Word suggested change to
It must be possible to come back to the old version.

I've been looking through the Web, but couldn't find satisfying explanation of this suggestion. I think I understood the difference between I have to... (there is someone external forcing me) vs I must (meaning I have an internal need) but I don't understand how to apply it here.

Could somebody care to explain?

  • Hello and welcome to ELU. Make sure to check this site for similar questions. One of them may answer yours. – KannE Apr 19 '19 at 6:01
  • Hi @KannE ! I did, but I didn't find exactly what I was looking for. I even mentioned that in my question. Now, I might have missed something, but if you think that is the case, please point me to such place. – Wylfryd Apr 19 '19 at 6:09
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    What version are you using? I tried your example sentence and wasn't given any suggestions about it. "have to" and "must" mean largely the same thing. There can be slight differences, but I don't know how Word can object to such a sentence if it doesn't know your intention. My first thought was that it was on the basis of "wordiness", as "has to" is longer than "must". Under your grammar settings (particularly the 'style settings') disable each option and see when it stops giving you the notice. Disable all, then check each option one by one. – Zebrafish Apr 19 '19 at 6:51
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    To get a sensible answer it seems like you are going to have to tell us exactly what you wrote (i.e. not a paraphrase) and exactly what Word told you. There is no passive in your sentence and I would be surprised if Word's grammar check, (for all its faults) told you there was. – Shoe Apr 19 '19 at 7:55
  • "Must" sounds slightly more natural, but neither sounds wrong. "Come back" to a previous version sounds odd. I would prefer "go back". I would not trust Microsoft Word for grammar advice. Turn it off. – user323578 Apr 19 '19 at 10:14
  • It must/has to be possible to come back to the old version.

As noted by xbnm, this isn't about "passive" at all. Forget passive.
And it isn't about why Word suggested one version or another. Forget Word.

This is about the fact that, while must and have to mostly mean the same, they're ambiguous.
All modals have two senses: one (called deontic) that has to do with obligation and permission,
and another (called epistemic) that has to do with logic and probability.

So, does the sentence above something appear on a specification for a software update protocol?
That would be deontic, and it would impose an obligation on the design of the software.
Or is it a proposition that any sane user would expect any sane designer to include?
That would be epistemic.

Interestingly, must seems to be preferable in the deontic sense, because it is more formal and therefore threateningly legal-sounding. In the epistemic sense, however, there is no difference in meaning between must and have to.


Actually, neither sentence is in passive form. Given sentences are equal to

To come back to the old version has to be possible.
To come back to the old version must be possible.

To explain, with a little more modification,

Coming back ... has to be possible.
Coming back ... must be possible.

So the suggestion is about between have to vs must and you are actually asking the difference between them.

It would not answer your question, but If I were you I would do:

User (should/must/have to) be able to rollback version.

I don't know the context though.

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