A girl : So, Tom, what is it that you do?

Tom : I write greeting cards

Summer : (She knew he majored in architecture and sometimes he draw the buildings at the office without letting people know. And she saw him reading a book, "The architecture of happiness". She knew he has been dreaming of making it as an architect, but he settle for the present, in this situation, she says)

But, Tom could be a really great architect if he wanted to be.

But, why "wanted"?, when we say "wanted" here, we imply that I don't think he wants or I'm not sure if he wants, but I'm just thinking of the imaginary situation and wonder what it would be like. But, she know he wants to be an architect deep inside. That shouldn't be the imaginary situation. So, maybe she could have said "he wants to be an architect, so at some time, he could be." But the reason she said like above, is because, she wanted to pretend like she doesn't know well about him. She didn't want to sound as if she knows everything about him, which could kind of sound rude. She didn't mean to be rude, so she was so cautious about the word she choose that she said "wanted" here.

Am I right to think this way?

2 Answers 2


At least from the text quoted, she knows he likes architecture, but she doesn't know if he actually wants to be an architect. (The bit about reading a book on it seems more supposition than actual knowledge of his intent.)

Lot of people have an interest in something but don't want to pursue an actual career in that field. I might be a huge fan of tennis, both watching and playing casually, but that doesn't meant I want to pursue it as a professional career. (Even if I do read autobiographies of tennis players.)

But let's say that it is what he really wants. The phrase used here is a bit of an idiom.

What it really means is:

He could be a really great architect if he only put his mind to it.


I agree with Jason Bassford. With most of English, it really depends on the context, and the emphasis. In other words, in this context, if the word “wanted” were to be emphasized, it would imply that some amount (small or unusually great) of effort, interest, or determination must be exhibited by Tom for him to become an architect. He would have to want it badly enough. It might be a lack of time, money, or opportunity that keeps him from achieving this. Or, it could just be a lack of motivation, vision (internal), self-esteem, or laziness.

For instance, Tom has a job writing greeting cards. He must have some skill at it for it to continue to be his job.He could make it a career if he put forth a little effort above and beyond the average...if he wanted. To make it a profession, he would have to put forth extra effort and study to make it is life...If he wanted. For Tom to change professions, at this point, would require from him a fair amount of effort and sacrifice...if he wanted.

Another example is in sports. Many youth play sports. They can go on to play organized and competitive sports in school, if they wanted. Through exceptional talent, they can excel in sports all the way through university, if they wanted. It would take not only exceptional talent, but an extraordinary effort and work ethos to play sports professionally. But, only if they really, really wanted.

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