Is there a difference in meaning in the following example:

  • Select the [x] button next to the email address that is to be deleted
  • Select the [x] button next to the email address that should be deleted

When do you really use "to be"?

Thanks a lot!

3 Answers 3


It is a very General question, but here is a starting point, in very general terms:

Use "to be" when that is what the future holds, according to the current situation.

For example:

  • OK: "My house has been marked DANGEROUS by the authorities, which means that it is to be demolished [shortly, by the authorities] ...."
  • Not OK: "My house has been marked DANGEROUS by the authorities, which means that it should be demolished [by me, whenever I have the time] ...."

Use "should be" when that is what you want or feel or think.

For example:

  • OK: "Your house looks weak; it should be renovated [at your expense & convenience] ..."
  • Not OK: "Your house looks weak; it is to be renovated [right now, by order!] ..."

In your example of email address deletion, either can be used without much change in meaning. Deletion is what the future holds, when you click the Delete button, and this is exactly what you want to happen.

  • I think you should include "Here is my class mate. She is to be my wife" as a formal variant of "Here is my class mate. She is going to be my wife". I'd say 'to be' invokes more of an authoritative 'I'm in control of the situation' (perhaps overly, here, nowadays) stance; it's certainly in a formal register. Oct 5, 2021 at 11:35
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth , I changed the Example to something more neutral and more politically correct.
    – Prem
    Oct 5, 2021 at 11:58
  • 1
    Note that should be can also be used in cases where you're considering the probability, or when you're not completely sure (but mostly sure) that something will occur. The delivery should be here soon. indicates that you believe it is on its way and that its arrival time is most likely in the near future. Oct 5, 2021 at 17:09
  • 1
    @Qix-MONICAWASMISTREATED , Good Point , but maybe, the Probability is covered by "what we feel" , at least at a stretch : "I am not sure but [ I think that or I feel that ] the Delivery will be here soon" will get converted to "should be" ....
    – Prem
    Oct 5, 2021 at 17:22
  • 1
    @Pfrem: True to common use, though it would convey more truth by the speaker if definitively thinks and feels that it will come to be; otherwise, "ought to be" would be more apt if thinks that it *should* (without necessarily high likliehood) or is *probable* if thinks that likely (without necessarily wishing that it will be) .
    – 11qq00
    Oct 5, 2021 at 20:36

In fact, the modals "must" and "should" can be used in the definition of this verb form ; it is considered to be an auxiliary.

(OALD) 5 be to do something used to say what must or should be done
♦ I am to call them once I reach the airport.
♦ You are to report this to the police.
♦ What is to be done about this problem?

TOPICS: Permission and obligation

There is however a second meaning of this auxiliary.

(OALD 6 be to do something used to say what is arranged to happen
♦ They are to be married in June.

It follows that in the case of this indication about an email address, there may be a difference or there may be relatively little. It depend on the procedure which precedes. If, in order to suppress the address, certain requirements must first be complied with, then this prerequisite can be seen as an arrangement between user and sevice provider; in this case the meaning is not that the user sees the supppression as a necessity (although the necessity is a reality) but it is instead "the suppression will be carried out as compliance with the preliminary steps makes necessary".


Obviously we can't tell you all the circumstances in which you would use to be!

The sentence you quote is evidently part of the instructions for deleting an email address. The person reading it has already decided to delete that particular address; it is [going] to be deleted, and that is how to do it.

If you said that the address should be or must be deleted, it would sound as though there was some strong reason why the person ought to do so.

  • 2
    I agree with your line of reasoning, but here is one alternative View-Point on your last sentence : "Should be" may not be the Perspective of the user, who may or may not have strong reasons about this, but this might be the Perspective of the Email System, which should be doing what the user wants. In that case, "Select the Email Address which I should Delete" makes sense because "I" refers to "the Email system" here. But yes, this is a very general question which can not have A Definite Answer ....
    – Prem
    Oct 5, 2021 at 10:50

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