I came across a line when reading Alice Munro's stories:

Another possible reason for his growling dislike has just occurred to me, and it’s odd that I didn’t think of it before. We were both flawed, obvious victims of physical misfortune. You would think such people would make common cause, but it could just as often happen that they don’t. Each may be reminded by the other of something sooner forgotten.

It appears to me the last sentence means:

Each may be reminded by the other of something that would soon be forgotten/we'd soon forget.

A different sentence with soon would make sense to me, not the sentence as written. But what does "sooner" mean here in this sentence? Sooner than what?

1 Answer 1


I think I have found the answer by... rereading my own rephrased sentence of the original sentence, plus some research. When I tried to research the word sooner in the original sentence, I found it hard to do so, because some dictionaries show sooner to be a noun meaning an early Western settler or someone for Oklahoma (source: MW), and the original sentence doesn't make sense with this understanding.

After I rephrased the original sentence in my question, incidentally I found would sooner in Google searches, which means the same thing as would rather.

Would rather and would sooner have the same meaning as would prefer. (this site)

I’d sooner do something is "used for saying what you would prefer to do" (Macmillan)

This has made the sentence make sense, with the help of my rewording. So

Each may be reminded by the other of something that we'd soon forget. (my reworded version)


Each may be reminded by the other of something that we would rather forget.

And Munro's original sentence with something as its subject seems to be an exercise of poetic license, as it is basically saying

Each may be reminded by the other of something that would rather be forgotten.

I don't think it's conventional or common to give would rather/would sooner an inanimate object without agency as a subject, so it appears Alice Munro is waxing poetic here.

  • Good research! I was about to post almost exactly the same thing you found.
    – stangdon
    Apr 18, 2018 at 18:10
  • @stangdon I have learned so much from generous helpful users here, including you. Thought I'd do a bit more research after posting, and voila. I was also informed by the part of Andrew's answer to my yesterday's question on poetic license that taught me writers don't follow grammar...
    – Eddie Kal
    Apr 18, 2018 at 18:13
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    @L.Moneta for the most part, writers do follow grammar, but know when and how to deviate for artistic effect. See for example the poetry of E. E. Cummings, who throws both grammar and traditional formatting out the window.
    – Andrew
    Apr 18, 2018 at 18:30
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    "But they can also haunt us like reluctant ghosts, calling up insidious details of time and ourselves that are sooner forgotten." [i.e. which we would prefer to forget] nytimes.com/1991/10/20/books/bad-brother-on-his-doorstep.html
    – TimR
    Apr 18, 2018 at 18:55
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    "just as easily forget" and "just as soon forget" can have different meanings. When something is just as easily forgotten, there's no special cause to remember it. But when something is "just as soon forgotten" there is reason to want to forget it, such as shame, embarrassment, ignominy, etc.
    – TimR
    Apr 18, 2018 at 18:59

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