"Wretched creatures that we are! what resource for us amidst the innumerable ills of life, did not religion suggest some methods of atonement, and appease those terrors, with which we are incessantly agitated and tormented?"

From Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume

About the second sentence structure, I have some questions.

First, why is the first letter of what (the starting word of the second sentence) not capital? As far as I know, exclamation mark serves the same syntactic function as period, so it should be "What" rather than "what", I guess.

Second, more confusing one, what is the status or meaning or function of the phrase "what resource for us amidst the innumerable ills of life," in the sentence? I think "religion" should be the subject, and "did not suggest"(inversion form) the verb phrase. I do not understand what the phrase is doing exactly. Please enlighten me with the pre-inverted sentence.

I appreciate your help.

1 Answer 1


18th-century punctuation tended to be rhetorical rather than syntactical, and the exclamation point marks only Hume's emphasis on the preceding noun phrase, not a full stop. This is still common in informal writing.

I got an A! on my history test.

The interrogative ellipts its verb: what resource would there be for us.... Again, you will still encounter this today:

What use asking if you know he's going to say 'no'?

  • 2
    There's also the archaic phrasing of did not religion suggest some methods of atonement..., which I think you probably wouldn't encounter today (it would always be if religion did not suggest...). But it's a brave learner who would try to get to grips with text like this. Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 17:47
  • Thank both of you very much for kind replies. Really helpful.
    – NAM
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 0:40

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