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“How far is X important?”

Does such a question of the above form mean:

A) Why is X important/unimportant?

or:

B) Is X important in reality?

or could it be interpreted both ways?

For example:

“How far is a knowledge of the past important in shaping your society’s future?”

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Sep 27 '18 at 9:54

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Neither. In the given context, how far means:

to what extent, degree, or distance

Your example sentence could be reworded as:

"To what extent is knowledge of the past important in shaping your society’s future?”

  • 1
    Or just "how important", plain and simple. – ЯegDwight Sep 27 '18 at 9:54
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I think @ЯegDwight nailed it in a comment. “How far” sounds awkward in this context.

To fix this, how can simply use “How important”:

How important is a knowledge of the past in shaping your society’s future?

Or, alternatively, you could use “How much”, and leave out the word important altogether:

How much does a knowledge of the past shape your society’s future?

  • I would disagree your 2 sentences say the same thing. The first asks "how important is it you understand the past to sensibly shape your future?" The second asks "how much effect does a knowledge of the past have on your decisions for the future" – WendyG Sep 27 '18 at 11:47
  • @WendyG - They may not be 100% identical in meaning, but the differences are subtle and the gist is the pretty much the same. – J.R. Sep 27 '18 at 21:20

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