What does this strange sentence mean?

That terrible job will by itself destroy your mental health.

What does this "by itself" mean?

Is this grammatical?

  • 2
    What's the source of this sentence? – Maulik V Feb 25 '14 at 9:01
  • The question has been changed, it would been nice if authors of earlier answers would have gotten some notification (simply comment on their answers). And of course, proof reading your own copied text is not a bad idea in general, although reading my answer would also immediately have told you what was wrong with your question. – oerkelens Feb 25 '14 at 14:27

"by oneself" means alone, on one's own, either

with nobody else present


with nobody else's help

For example:

I was sad because I was by myself (no one was with me)

I did my homework by myself (with no help)

As we are talking about a job, not a person, we use "by itself", meaning on its own, with nothing else "helping" it.

So "That terrible job will by itself destroy your mental health" means that the job alone, without help from anything else, will destroy your mental health.



The original question had the phrase as

That terrible will by itself destroy your mental health.

No, that sentence is not grammatical, unless "terrible" is read as a noun, which seems highly unusual.

I can see two ways this sentence would make sense, but the two ways imply a completely different meaning. You will have to provide more context to know which of the two is applicable:

Paranoia is a terrible thing. That terrible thing will, by itself, destroy your mental health.

The will is a terrible thing. That terrible will, by itself, destroys your mental health.

You will notice that in both cases I interpret "terrible" as an adjective. In the first case, I added something for the adjective to modify (paranoia), and I read the verb in your sentence as "will destroy".

In the second case, I interpreted "will" as a noun, and I read the verb as "destroys.

In both cases, I added commas around "by itself" to make the sentence more clear.

I would have guessed the author meant the second option, meaning that one's will can, by itself (without help from anything else) destroy a person's mental health. "Destroy" does need an s then.

After the edit, it turns out that the first interpretation was the correct one. Something will, without the help of anything else, accomplish to destroy your mental health.

  • Now that OP has updated his question to show that he meant "That terrible job [...]", I suggest you edit your answer. As it stands it made no sense to me until I realized what happened. – Doc Feb 25 '14 at 14:18
  • No indeed. It would have been nice if the OP would have informed me about such a radical change in the question. – oerkelens Feb 25 '14 at 14:25

It's grammatical, though it's a little awkward.

"By itself" is being used as an adverb to modify destroy. In other words, even if everything else about your life was totally peaceful and sane, this job would still drive you crazy.

  • Another way to think of it would be: That terrible job, along with the long commute and the lousy hours, will destory your mental health. In that sentence, a number of factors work together to drive someone crazy. But in the original, the "terrible job" can do that all on its own. – J.R. Feb 26 '14 at 10:28

Sentences starting with a that usually looks like this:

That terrible job by itself will destroy your mental health is inevitable

Since the last part is missing, we must assume that it is one of those sentences that lacks the complete structure, as seen in a conversation.

Things turns out positive.

by itself could mean terrible job . Look at this sentence:

My work by itself is my own reward

This implies that no other reward is necessary, but the work itself provides satisfaction.

  • "That terrible by itself will destroy your mental health is inevitable". That terrible what? This sounds completely wrong to me. Is there an alternate parsing? – starsplusplus Feb 25 '14 at 9:57
  • Welcome to ELL! It seems that the first sentence is missing subject. Can you elaborate more? Is this the case were another sentence before is needed to understand this one? – MasterPJ Feb 25 '14 at 13:18

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