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Source: Absolute FreeBSD: The Complete Guide to FreeBSD, 2nd Edition by Michael W. Lucas (2008)

Example:

If your machine doesn't have a serial console, nothing any operating system can do will give you access to the PC-style BIOS messages across the serial port.

I'm not sure if I fully understand what that's trying to say. What's specifically casing trouble for me is the part between nothing and will give you. I don't think I understand how exactly it figures into the overall structure of the sentence. I suppose that we can even get rid of it and the sentence will still read well:

If your machine doesn't have a serial console, nothing will give you access to the PC-style BIOS messages across the serial port.

The original construction, however, sounds a little bit awkward to me. I could try and write my own example sentence using the exact same grammar:

Nothing that I can do will help you in this situation. Sorry, buddy, you're on your own here.

Do you think this type of phrasing is totally legitimate in English? Does it make sense grammatically and semantically to you guys? I don't know, but I do find it somewhat difficult to understand.

  • I don't know about whether it's grammatically perfect but it's definitely a common idiom... and if there's one thing I know about idioms, it's that they don't need to be perfect, people just know what they mean. – Catija Mar 9 '17 at 23:54
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nothing any operating system can do is a noun-phrase, subject of "will give".

any operating system can do is a relative clause modifying nothing.

Grammatical.

No thing that any operating system can do can give you access...

Take all the capabilities of all the operating systems, and among them you will not find the capability that will give you access...

When Humpty Dumpty had his great fall, all the king's men could not put him back together again.

Nothing any of the king's men could do could put him back together again.

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Your example sentence has perfect grammar.

Grammatically, the phrase "that I can do" modifies the noun "nothing." It can't really be left out, because maybe something Superman can do would help.

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