I am reading a book called Howards End by E. M. Forster.

In the first chapter there is a letter and at the end of letter are the following words:

. . . Much love. Modified love to Tibby. Love to Aunt Juley . . .

What does modified love mean?

I did some research and found one of the meanings of modify at dictionary.com:

 5. to reduce or lessen in degree or extent; moderate; soften: to modify one's demands.

But except for this meaning, I was unable to find any explanation for this phrase.

So modified love means "less love"?

  • 3
    It's not a phrase I recognize as a native speaker. I could guess at what it means, but your guess is (literally) as good as mine. I do wonder if this question might be suitable for English Language & Usage--though I'm not a regular there, so I hesitate to actually recommend it for ELU myself.
    – user230
    Nov 4, 2013 at 7:55
  • 2
    If your goal is to understand the meaning of this particular writer, the speculations of pmusser and JR may be of value. If your goal is to expand your own use of the language, the simple answer here is, "modified love" is not a phrase that conveys any meaning to English speakers of itself. Perhaps in the past it had some accepted meaning that is now forgotten. (If so, I'm not aware of it, but that proves little.) If in context you explained how or why your love had changed from what it was before it might make sense. Otherwise, just don't use the phrase with no context.
    – Jay
    Nov 4, 2013 at 15:23
  • @Jay I understand that very well. I did not intend to use this phrase in everyday life. But I when I study something I trying to understand subject in details, especially when it is look like “weird” and hard to find answer by myself. My problem was that I cannot find something even similar in my native language. Nov 4, 2013 at 16:17

4 Answers 4


At first I wondered if – given that Tibby is a man, and the writer is a woman – perhaps Helen wanted to emphasize her love is affectionate but not romantic. However, I had to rule that out after a bit more research revealed that Helen, Meg, and Tibby are all siblings. However, this note was telling:

Tibby is Margaret and Helen's younger brother, a peevish 16-year-old, who grows up and attends Oxford. Tibby is prone to acting out the flaws of the Schlegel family – their excessive aestheticism, indulgence in luxury, and indolence – but shows real improvement by the end of the novel.

Now I'm thinking that this modified love is a sisterly love, whereby the letter writer is saying something along the lines of: Yes, I know he can be a jerk sometimes, but I still love him as my brother. In other words, Helen doesn't want to say that she dislikes her brother, but, due to his stark flaws, she doesn't want to profess an all-out "love" for him, either.

I suppose you could call that a "lesser" love, and you initially surmised.

  • I suppose your explanation is best. And I think Helen wrote with these words because previously in same letter she expressed that she is unhappy with Tibby due to his illness, which prevented both sisters to be together. And "modified love" comes after "much love" to show contrast in feelings. Nov 4, 2013 at 10:42
  • This is actually a challenging question. I'd recommend you unaccept my answer for a half a day at least, and see if any others might have an even better answer. 75% of the people in the U.S. probably aren't even awake yet, so they haven't had a chance to read your question. (This is just a personal philosophy of mine, but I think every question deserves at least 12 hours before an acceptance – though 24 would be even better.)
    – J.R.
    Nov 4, 2013 at 10:46

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2946/2946-h/2946-h.htm#link2HCH0001 -- Gutenburg copy for reference

"Much love," "Give my love to ...," and such variants are standard ways to end a letter in English.

Barring some older English meaning of "modified" that is no longer in use and that I'm not aware of, given the context that it's in, it's probably just a way for the author to indicate that the love she has for Meg (the person to whom the letter is written) is not the same kind of love that she has for Tibby. I think most likely, here it's just a matter of style. Helen (the author) and Meg probably have a more intimate relationship than Helen and Tibby. For example, modified love could be used when two people writing are best friends, yet they mention a third person who is a relative or acquaintance.

To modify something more often simply means to change it in some way. For example, genetically modified organisms (GMO's) have had their genes changed in some way from their original form -- it doesn't necessarily mean that they have fewer genes, and in fact it's fairly common for GMO's to have genes from other species added to them.

It's worth mentioning that Howards End was published in 1910, so the phrasing in places is not going to be how things would be phrased in modern-day English. Just thought you should be made aware of this, if you're using it to learn English.

  • Oh, and it's worth mentioning that "modified love" is not at all a standard variant of "much love," so if you were thinking of using it to end a letter of your own... Don't. :)
    – pmusser
    Nov 4, 2013 at 7:34
  • I, too, have never heard the expression before, but I like this theory. It seems plausible, esp. given the way "love" can describe a wide range of emotions. I can love my wife, love my daughter, love my brother, love my job, and love coffee ice cream, but I don't feel identical emotions toward any of them, despite using the same word five times. It's an odd case where a word isn't a synonym for itself, and "modified love" would be a legitimate way to express this.
    – J.R.
    Nov 4, 2013 at 9:33

I am an English Literature student, and I've studied this phrase exactly in E M Forster's "Howards End". According to my instructor, Helen said so because she's angry that Tibby hadn't been able to come with her and visit Howards End. By examining the tone of the novel, we can see that it is a little humorous. I hope it's clear.


Forster might be thinking of W.S. Gilbert's words for the comic opera 'The Mikado':

"Nanki-Poo (the son of the Japanese emperor): Yum-Yum, at least we are alone! I have sought you night and day for three weeks, in the belief that your guardian was beheaded, and I find that you are about to be married to him this afternoon!

Yum-Yum (the girl he loves): Alas, yes!

Nanki-Poo: But you do not love him?

Yum-Yum: Alas, no!

Nanki-Poo: Modified rapture!"

In other words, 'there's some bad news (she's going to marry someone else) and some good news (she doesn't love him, therefore she might still love me)'.

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