3

There is a long conditional sentence:

If he would just say he spoke too hastily, that of course he loves her and wants to make it work, that they’ve had things stacked against them, he knows that, it’s been hard for both of them, and they have to somehow help each other, try harder to be content together—then she’s sure they could love each other again. (An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena)

So I lost the main clause. Could you tell me please which one is the main clause? Is the phrase "he knows that...[up to the end]" the main clause?

  • 1
    It may be helpful (or not) to note that, as a native speaker, I had never heard of the “rule” that the “main” clause of a conditional is the result rather than the condition, and I wouldn’t think of this sentence in terms of “main clause” at all, but rather just condition and result. – KRyan Aug 14 '18 at 3:40
  • Native speakers don't think about main clauses and subordinate clauses in the first place – it's procedural knowledge – and we shouldn't be surprised if native speakers can't identify them. When you call something a "main clause", doing so has to result in a testable prediction, or it has no meaning and there's no reason to do it; it's not based on your gut, it's based on Main Clause Phenomena which (typically) occur only in main clauses. For example, main clause interrogatives are marked by Subject–Auxiliary Inversion, unlike subordinate interrogatives. – snailcar Aug 21 '18 at 23:09
  • In 'he knows that', 'that' refers to what ? Is it 'it’s been hard for both of them' OR/& 'and they have to somehow help each other' OR/& 'try harder to be content together' OR/& 'that of course he loves her and wants to make it work' OR/& 'that they’ve had things stacked against them' OR/& 'he spoke too hastily' ? Does it seem ambiguous though? – CuriousMind Oct 19 '18 at 18:27
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In an "If..., (then)...." the main clause follows the conjuction "then". A shorter example would be:

If he apologises, then she will forgive him.

The main clause is "she will forgive him". So in you longer example, the main clause is

she’s sure [...]

The conditional clause (from if... to ... then) is actually a complex list with lots of parallel structures:

If he would just say:

  1. he spoke too hastily
  2. that of course he
    ....a) loves her and
    ....b) wants to make it work,
  3. that they’ve had things stacked against them,
  4. he knows that,
    ... a) it’s been hard for both of them, and
    ....b) they have to somehow help each other, try harder to be content together
  • +1 That's exactly how I would have put it. All of the stuff in between can be removed as clarifying but essentially irrelevant. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Aug 13 '18 at 20:39
  • Interesting. I took he knows that as if she were hearing in her mind the very words coming out of his mouth. "We've had things stacked against us—I know that". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 13 '18 at 21:14
  • I suspect the author is trying to create the impression of layers of thought and emotion. She is trying to get us inside the the complex and confusing maze of feelings that the female character has for the male. In other words, this is meant to be ambiguous and hard to parse. – James K Aug 14 '18 at 13:06
3

Let's reverse the order of the clauses, and punctuate a little differently, and show where there's been a reduction or an ellipsis:

She’s sure they could love each other again if he would just say (that) he spoke too hastily, that of course he loves her and wants to make it work, that they’ve had things stacked against them—he knows that—(that) it’s been hard for both of them, and (that) they have to somehow help each other, (have to) try harder to be content together.

There's no need for then when the main clause begins such a sentence, and it isn't really required in the original either:

If he would just say (that) he spoke too hastily, that of course he loves her and wants to make it work, that they’ve had things stacked against them—he knows that—(that) it’s been hard for both of them, and (that) they have to somehow help each other, (have to) try harder to be content together, she’s sure they could love each other again.

Of course, putting those that's back in to show the parallelism of the clauses ends up making the passage seem more "measured" or slow-paced, when it is actually a little erratic and emotional.

  • The omission of then ruins the rhythm of the phrase, so I don't think it's redundant here. Moreover, it might be interpreted as If he would just say (that) she’s sure they could love each other again. – Michael Login Aug 13 '18 at 19:11
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    @Mv Log: I don't think omission of then ruins the rhythms, but that's neither here nor there as I'm not giving the writer advice but explaining the syntax to the original poster. And in fact I address a similar point with my last sentence. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 13 '18 at 19:19
  • @ Tᴚoɯɐuo - In 'he knows that', 'that' refers to what ? Is it 'it’s been hard for both of them' OR/& 'and they have to somehow help each other' OR/& 'try harder to be content together' OR/& 'that of course he loves her and wants to make it work' OR/& 'that they’ve had things stacked against them' OR/& 'he spoke too hastily' ? Does it seem ambiguous though? – CuriousMind Oct 19 '18 at 18:29
  • @CuriousMind: that here in "he knows that, ..." is a relative pronoun, not clause-subordinating that, and its antecedent is the fact expressed in the preceding assertion, "he knows that they've had things stacked against them". I don't think it's ambiguous, since that's the only reasonable candidate. The other preceding assertions are "he loves her and [he] wants to make it work", which would not really be something he "knows". She is imagining him saying these things. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 19 '18 at 19:18

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