This is a follow-up question to this question that I asked yesterday.

There are a couple of similar expressions that I need help with:

  • How [am I supposed to/do I] get to the stadium from here?
  • Where [am I supposed to/do I] get the cab from?

Are these expressions okay? Does using "supposed to" in place of "do" affect the meaning of the sentence here?

  • 2
    Using "How am I supposed to..." rather than a simple "How do I..." indicates a certain amount of exasperation at your inability to do what you're asking about.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 31, 2012 at 15:33
  • 1
    I don't know if there is any formal rule about this, hence the comment instead of answer, but "how am I supposed to..." seems like it should have a follow-up such as, "How am I supposed to get to the stadium when I don't have cab fare?" Dec 31, 2012 at 15:33
  • 1
    @Andrew Leach: Yes - 'How am I supposed to ...' often introduces a rather insolent response to a request (perhaps referencing a foreseen step needed to comply with the request). Dec 31, 2012 at 15:39
  • possible duplicate of Can I ask a practical question like this "how am I supposed to know something". I don't see anything in this question that isn't (or at least, couldn't be) addressed in the previous one. Dec 31, 2012 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


(Be) supposed to (pronounced /'spostə/, eye dialect spelling "sposta") is a periphrastic modal auxiliary predicate. Like ought to (pronounced /'ɔɾə/, eye dialect spelling "oughta"), it's a paraphrase for the modal should.

That means they have to be followed by an infinitive (which is why the to is there), and that one can substitute should freely for either be sposta or oughta,

  • You're sposta empty the garbage.
  • You oughta empty the garbage.
  • You should empty the garbage.

at least in constructions where a modal is grammatical:

  • He was sposta empty the garbage yesterday.
  • **He shoulded empty the garbage yesterday.*

The flexibility of such periphrastic modals in other constructions is why they exist. English speakers *would like to can use a modal as an infinitive, or in the past tense, the way German speakers can. But English modals are deponent, and don't have any inflected forms at all. So we use the periphrastic constructions instead in those cases.

There is not specific contrast between the used of sposta and do as auxiliaries; both take infinitives, and both can be used in questions of this kind, but so can many other constructions:

  • What do I do next?
  • What am I sposta do next?
  • What should I do next?
  • What must I do next?
  • What do I hafta do next?
  • What am I doing next?
  • What does it say to do next?
  • What's next on the list?
  • What's the next step?
  • What's next?

Use of sposta does not change the meaning of a question. Any of the questions above may be used either to simply request information, or to express irritation on the part of the speaker, but these would be distinguished by intonation and stress in speech, not lexical choice. In writing, which does not represent intonation, most sentences are ambiguous anyway.

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