Monday, December 05, 2005

suppose / supposed

1) I suppose I should go.
2) I am supposed to go.
3) He is the supposed leader.
The first difference between suppose and supposed is that suppose is a verb and supposed is an adjective. With this difference in mind, we can begin to understand the differences in meanings.

In 1), suppose has a meaning similar to think. Suppose generally expresses a belief that lacks certainty or an opinion.

In 2), supposed means required or obliged. It is similar in meaning to the modal should.
In 3), supposed means either mistakenly believed or based on not very strong evidence.

In 3), the meaning is closer to the verb meaning 1) than is 2).

Since 3) and 1) are somewhat similar, how can we tell them apart in reading?

Here are two sentences with supposed in them.
A. After waiting for a half an hour, she supposed her friend was not coming.
B. Her supposed friend had failed to support her in the disagreement.
In the first sentence, the verb, supposed, follows directly after the subject. In the second sentence, supposed is in the adjective place in a noun phrase, that is, it is in front of the noun.
The most common use of supposed, however, is after the BE verb as an adjective. In writing, don't forget the adjective form looks like the past tense, but it isn't really a verb, so it doesn't agree with time of the other verbs.

Suppose is sometimes used at the beginning of a sentence in an imperative sentence.
Suppose your parents don't come.
This sentence is used as a hypothetical statement, a sort of if-clause. It is similar to:
What if your parents don't come?
This use of suppose occurs when a writer wants the reader to think of something in a way that is different from the current reality.


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Anonymous said...

This isn't quite right. In the usage of "supposed to" to mean "ought to" or "meant to," it is not an adverb, but still a verb. It's as if you're saying "expected to" or "presumed to," as in, "I was expected to/supposed to be doing my homework, but I was watching TV."

John said...

Anonymous, I am confused by your comment. I don't see where I wrote that "supposed to" is or acts like an adverb. Please clarify. I do point out that supposed to as you use in your example is similar in meaning to the modal should. Is that what you refer to?

Anonymous said...
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Seeker said...

Thanks for your page, but I am STILL kinda confused about suppose - supposed.

I would have liked for you to write four or five sentences correctly using each. I could probably spend five minutes trying to figure out what you meant, and I am sure you are entirely correct. But I wanted some clear, quick examples.

Again, thanks so much for doing all this. YOu can't help it that some of us are stupid.

jons1987 said...

This post is right for the most part. The labels of the words' parts of speech are incorrect.

You state:
"The first difference between suppose and supposed is that suppose is a verb and supposed is an adjective."

Both are verbs, in fact they are the same verb. Supposed is both the past tense and past participle of "to suppose." In the two most common uses of Suppose to mean "what if" and supposed to mean "ought to" the forms of the verb are imperative and past participle, respectively.

So, to clarify:
Suppose - Imperative or Command Form of "to suppose"
Suppose we go to the park today.
See the birds at the park today!

Supposed - Past Participle of "to suppose"
We are supposed to go to the park today.
We have seen the birds at the park today. (seen the the past participle of "to see")
Past participles are usually the same as the past tense of a verb, but there are the irregulars like seen, eaten, hung, been, and taken, which are all usually mistakenly used in place of the past tense or visa versa, because as native speakers of the language, we are not taught to analytical of our language. Most people just don't know.

Vimaljamesraj.RVS said...

Is it the right statement?
"He proposed and i supposed" for mentioning that "i agreed the proposal with hesitation"?

MathNan said...

Great post. Makes perfect sense and clearly supports my argument that these words are commonly misused. Thank you.

MathNan said...

Great post. Makes perfect sense and clearly supports my argument that these words are commonly misused. Thank you!

Dr Hardy said...

There's a lot of confusion in these comments - but the above grammatical explanations lend themselves to such confusion. If "suppose" is used with the verb "to be" (just like "use"), it puts the sentence in the passive voice. Hence it uses the past participle "supposed" - not an adjective, nor an adverb. You are SUPPOSED to know this!

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Mohib Khan said...

Is this statement correct"it was suppose to be a surprise"?just curious.

John said...

No, the statement "it was suppose to be a surprise" is not correct. You would use supposed here to reflect the probability of it happening or not happening.