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Session 5

Learners' Questions

Welcome to Learners' Questions - the series where we answer your queries about the English language. What will this week's learner question be?

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    Activity 1

Activity 1

Learners' Questions

Suppose and supposed to

Sanmati from India says: People use suppose and supposed to a lot of the time in conversation. Can you please tell me in which sense and where they should be used?

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Dan 
Hi guys! Dan here for BBC Learning English with this week's Learner Question. Find out what it is after this.

OK! This week's learner question comes from Sanmati from India, who writes: People use suppose and supposed to a lot of the time in conversation. Can you please tell me in which sense and where they should be used? Ok, Sanmati. Here we go.

So, suppose can mean think, believe, imagine or expect, and in this sense, suppose is often used with negative structures when we hope the answer will be positive. For example: I don’t suppose you could lend me £20, could you?

It is also used in short answers with the same meaning of think, believe, imagine, or expect, and note that two forms of the negative are possible. For example: Do you think he will be late? I suppose so.  I suppose not. I don’t suppose so.

Now, suppose and supposing can also be used in a completely different way to mean something like ‘what if’. And this is to introduce suggestions or to express fear. Now, note that the verb which follows suppose or supposing can be in the present tense or the past tense. So, for example: Suppose I come tomorrow instead of Friday, will that be ok? Or: Supposing I came tomorrow instead of Friday, would that be ok?

We can also use the structure be supposed to plus the infinitive. And this means that something should be done because it is the law, the rule or the custom. However, in practice, it’s probably not done. For example: I’m supposed to clean my room before I go out, but I never do!

Finally we can use the expression supposed to be to mean generally believed to be true by people. For example: This medicine’s supposed to be good for stomach cramps. Why don’t you try taking it? 

Finally, when you use supposed to in speech, note that the ‘d’ is not pronounced. It is pronounced suppose to. However, when you write it down, don’t forget the ‘d’, ok?

I hope that answers your question Sanmati. Thank you very much for writing to us. If anybody else out there has a question for Learners’ Questions, you can email us on: learning.english@bbc.co.uk. Please remember to put Learners’ Questions in the subject box and your name and where you’re writing from. We get a lot of emails, guys. I’m afraid we can’t answer every single one of them, but we do read them all. And for more information, go to our website bbclearningenglish.com. That’s it for this week’s Learners’ Questions. I’ll see you next time. Bye!

 

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Summary

Suppose
Suppose can mean think, believe, imagine or expect. It is often used in negative request structures when we hope the answer will be positive. Suppose in short answers can also mean think, believe, imagine or expect. Note the two possible negative forms.
I don’t suppose you could lend me £20, could you?
Do you think he will be late? I suppose so. I suppose not. I don’t suppose so.

Suppose and supposing
Suppose and supposing can be used to mean 'what if'. They are used to introduce suggestions, hypothetical or not, and to express fear. The verb form following either can be in the present tense or past tense forms.
Suppose I come tomorrow instead of Friday, will that be ok?
Suppose I came tomorrow instead of Friday, would that be ok?
Supposing I come tomorrow instead of Friday, will that be ok?
Supposing I came tomorrow instead of Friday, would that be ok?

Be supposed to + infinitive
This structure means something should be done because it is the law, the rule or the custom. However, in practice, it’s probably not done.
I’m supposed to clean my room before I go out, but I never do!

Supposed to be
This structure means generally believed to be true by people. Note the /d/ is not pronounce in speech, but is written.
This medicine’s supposed to be good for stomach cramps. Why don’t you try taking it?

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Learners’ Questions Quiz

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End of Session 5

Well, that's it for this unit! Join us again in Unit 28 for more Exam Skills, News Review, Pronunciation in the News, The Teachers' Room and Learners' Questions!

Session Vocabulary

  • Suppose
    Suppose can mean think, believe, imagine or expect. 

    Suppose and supposing
    Suppose and supposing can be used to mean 'what if'. 

    Be supposed to + infinitive
    Something should be done because it is the rule, but it’s probably not done.

    Supposed to be
    This structure means generally believed to be true by people.