As was suggested there, I'v moved my question in here. I'm expecting to get some distinct references to grammar [if it is possible] to make my thoughts clear / sticking to rules

I understand the following sentence by context, but I have questions about it.

Later I was to appreciate how far it fell short of the reality

My questions are:

  1. What is the form of "I was to appreciate" (where infinitive is used) in English. Why isn't it "I appreciated" ? (The reason I ask is because I would never say it the way it is in the quote)
  2. For the part with "how far it fell short..." why are "far" and "short" used together? They are usually considered antonyms (to some extent). I would just say: "How far It fell FROM the reality"

Let's take your second question first. The short answer is that to fall short is an idiom. Picture a small creek, with children taking turns jumping over it. A child who does not jump the entire distance across, but instead lands in the water and gets wet, has fallen short of the other side.

Now imagine the St. James River. It's a fairly safe bet that no child will be able to jump across this river where it flows through Montreal, at least not in one jump. Any child (any human, for that matter) who makes the attempt will most certainly fall short of the other side.

Most children will be able to jump over a small creek, or if they can't make it the whole distance, they will probably be close to the other side when they fall in. However, any child attempting to jump over the St. James will not just fall short, but will be far from the other side.

Thus, "to fall far short" of something (a goal, an expectation) means not just to fail, but to fail significantly or spectacularly.

As to your first question: The meaning of I was to do something is rather nuanced. Let's look at both phrases side-by-side:

Later, I was to appreciate how far. . .

Later, I appreciated how far. . .

The use of the infinitive here is usually to indicate that the speaker's viewpoint changed. It carries connotations of "I didn't understand it then, but something helped me to understand it after some time had passed". It also connects the events of the past to the realizations of the present.

Additionally, the infinitive can imply that the speaker was not solely responsible for this change. To most English speakers, it says something like this:

Later, however, someone/something helped me understand better just how far short. . .

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    +1 The use of was to in this specific case is also listed in Longman English Grammar under entry 9.49 The future-in-the-past, "refer to an outcome that could not be foreseen". This agrees with your implication "the speaker was not solely responsible for this change". – Damkerng T. Jan 17 '14 at 15:56
  • Very good explanation! I read it like a chapter from a book. It worked for me. – ses Jan 17 '14 at 15:57
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    Good answer, and excellent supporting reference/clarification from @Damkerng! I knew there was a (subtle) difference between Simple Past and was + infinitive in this context, but it's tricky to articulate. To some extent, in OP's exact context it has the effect of maintaining the reader's concept of "reference time" back before the later appreciation actually happened. That's to say it's easier for the author to continue narrating other events that might take place between the actual "falling short" and the later "realisation of the extent of that earlier shortfall". – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '14 at 18:15
  • Excellent points. I don't have the time to add the supporting information right now, but once I can sit down to rewrite some things I certainly intend to incorporate everyone's observations. (As an interesting unrelated note, a search for "Longman English Grammar 9.49" turns up Damkerng T's comment.) – Jonathan Garber Jan 17 '14 at 18:49

To answer your second question - to "fall short" is a phrase meaning when something doesn't come up to expectations.

Dictionary: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fall+short

So "falling short of reality" means that it was not as good as the reality.

Then, "far" is just used to mean "a lot". Falling "far short" means that there was a big difference between the reality and the expectations (I say expectations but I mean whatever the "it" in your sentence is). So, roughly, it means "Later I was to appreciate that it was not as good as the reality - by a long way".

  • You are not wrong, but you didn't address OP's second question at all. (Yeah, yeah - I know he should only ask one question in one post, but even so... :) – FumbleFingers Jan 17 '14 at 18:18
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    I think you mean I didn't address his/her first question ;) And by my first sentence I thought I made it clear that I was only answering one of the questions. The truth is, I do not know enough to answer the first question in detail, but I didn't think that should stop me from providing information on the one that I could help with :) At the time of answering, no-one else had answered - and better an incomplete answer than no answer at all, I thought! – starsplusplus Jan 20 '14 at 9:09

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