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I would appreciate it if someone could let me know which one of the following choices would sound natural in my self-made sentence below:

  • By no stretch of the imagination........................an astronaut.

a) can Jim become

b) Jim can become

Based on dictionary examples, I guess after the phrase "By no stretch of the imagination" we have to use the verb and subject in a replaced form. So I think the correct choice grammatically should be 'a', but I'm not sure.

  • a) is correct, but beyond '(b)' just sounding wrong, I can't help. – WRX Jan 24 '17 at 16:28
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    "By no stretch of the imagination" is a cliche and should be avoided if possible. However, I would say, "By no stretch of the imagination could Jim become an astronaut." You are correct that of the two examples, a) is correct and b) is not. – Mark Hubbard Jan 24 '17 at 16:50
  • @Mark Hubbard : Could you please let me know what could be used instead of "by no stretch of imagination" . – EngFan Jan 24 '17 at 16:50
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    "It is clear that Jim doesn't have what it takes to become an astronaut." Or, "Jim clearly lacks the requirements for becoming an astronaut." However, "It is clear that" is also unnecessary. It is better just to make a plain statement, if possible. – Mark Hubbard Jan 24 '17 at 16:54
  • @MarkHubbard you mean, "you should avoid cliche's like the plague"? :) – Andrew Jan 24 '17 at 17:33
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"By no stretch of the imagination ..." is an idiomatic phrase that is followed by the question form of a sentence.

Jim is an astronaut -> is Jim an astronaut? By no stretch of the imagination is Jim an astronaut.

Jim could become an astronaut -> Could Jim become an astronaut? -> By no stretch of the imagination could Jim become an astronaut.

It's fine to use "can" instead of "could" but as Mark Hubbard mentions in his comment, "could" sounds better since the sentence is phrased as a hypothetical.

A substitute for "by no stretch of the imagination ..." is "there is no way that ..." or "it is impossible that ..." or "I can't believe that ..." These use a different grammar, though.

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In addition to the previous answer, the sentence

By no stretch of the imagination could Jim become an astronaut.

can be changed into

Jim could not become an astronaut by any stretch of the imagination.

Or

Jim could not become an astronaut. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

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