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I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid for what it symbolised for modern India but I didn’t cry.

My Approach

I took "for what" as "as", and sentence became:

"I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid as it symbolised for modern India but I didn’t cry."

But as far as I know, "for what" is used in the sense of "why", as in;

For what reason did you go into the jungle?

Or

Why did you go into the jungle?

  • For means because of. What means "the thing(s)". The writer means he was saddened because the mosque meant great things to modern india. Take my comment with a pinch of salt as I'm not a native speaker of English :) – Sara Dec 6 '17 at 15:05
  • x symbolizes something, it is not made explicit. It can be any number of problems encountered in human relations: negativity, social chaos, violence against people's beliefs, etc. For what refers to the unspecified effects of the destruction in the author's mind. "as" does not work here. – Lambie Dec 6 '17 at 15:09
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    OK, let's try another sentence.The goddess loved the god *** for what he had accomplished*** during this visit to the South". We do not know what he accomplished, right? But, she loved him for it, regardless of what it was. Now do you see? :) – Lambie Dec 6 '17 at 15:41
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    Ok, great. I also entered an answer that shows it even more clearly, I hope. – Lambie Dec 6 '17 at 16:26
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    It can be paraphrased as I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid because of what it symbolised for modern India but I didn’t cry. The expression for what it symbolised for modern India is a reason adjunct. – BillJ Dec 6 '17 at 19:13
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This is one of those situations where placing the phrase next to the item it modifies would clarify the sentence.

If you want to express (clearly) the idea that the mosque had symbolic value not that the destruction had symbolic value, and that you are explaining the reason for your sadness not the reason for the destruction, it would be better to change the noun destruction to a verb (so there's no possibility of confusing the referent of it) and to move "for what it symbolized" to the front of the sentence.

Both of these sentences are valid. it can look forward to its referent (cataphora) or refer back to an earlier noun (anaphora)

For what it symbolized to modern India, I was certainly saddened when Babri Masjid was destroyed, but I didn’t cry.

For what Babri Masjid symbolized to modern India, I was certainly saddened when it was destroyed, but I didn’t cry.

The temporal when implies the speaker was alive when the destruction took place. If you are learning about it but were not alive at the time, you can use a that content clause:

For what it symbolized to modern India, I was certainly saddened that Babri Masjid was destroyed, but I didn’t cry.

For what Babri Masjid symbolized to modern India, I was certainly saddened that it was destroyed, but I didn’t cry.

  • "You were not alive"? – confused guy Dec 6 '17 at 17:10
  • @confused guy: I do not understand your terse question. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 6 '17 at 17:17
  • I meant you have written "You were not alive", shouldn't it be "you were not there at the time when the incident happened"? – confused guy Dec 6 '17 at 17:22
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    Duly pardoned.... – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 6 '17 at 18:11
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    what is basically a placeholder for "the things (it symbolizes)" or "all it symbolizes" or "that which it symbolizes". what is a mere stand-in or proxy. He plays the drums. He plays what? The drums. What he plays is the drums. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 6 '17 at 21:47
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"for what" can be synonymous to "to what extent" or just mean "for the things"

I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid because I realised the extent of its symbolism for modern India...

I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid for the thing(s) it symbolised for modern India...

"as it symbolised for" is not correct English - "as a symbol for" would work better but not convey the same meaning as my rewritten sentence

UPDATE (due to comment)

You can use "because of what" instead of "for what"

I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid because of what it symbolised for modern India...

  • Can "It symbolised for modern India." Be replaced with "It symbolises India"? Or "for" can't be omitted? – confused guy Dec 6 '17 at 16:24
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    If it truly symbolised India then yes, but perhaps only for a certain group...but for me Taj Mahal is more of a symbol – mplungjan Dec 6 '17 at 16:43
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I would not see for what as somehow connected. For can easily be replaced in this sentence by because of:

I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid because of what it symbolized for modern India but I didn’t cry.

What follows because of can be replaced by something that doesn't even use what:

I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid because of its beautiful architecture.

And yes, you can replace because of with for and that sentence will still be fine.

But as far as I know, "for what" is used in the sense of "why".

No, it certainly is not. For is used here in the sense of because of, and what just happens to be the first word of the rest of the sentence (the clause what it symbolized for modern India).

  • Suggestion appreciated,I edit the question. – confused guy Dec 6 '17 at 15:44
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original sentence: I was certainly saddened by the destruction of the Babri Masjid for what it symbolised for modern India but I didn’t cry.

Let's try and understand the sentence structure here:

Phrase: the destruction of the Babri Masjid symbolised [something that is not stated] for modern India.

X can symbolise something for Y.

So, for what refers to what it symbolises for India, which is not stated.

Another example:

Your father symbolizes hard work and honesty for your brother.

Your brother respects him for what he symbolises. [here, we know: hard work and honesty]

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