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I just can't understand the structure and meaning of this phrase? Why he used "that" at the beginning of that sentence? And I don't get the function of "should have v3" form in that phrase.

He looked upon aimless bodily exertion as a waste of energy, and he seldom bestirred himself save when there was some professional object to be served. Then he was absolutely untiring and indefatigable. That he should have kept himself in training under such circumstances is remarkable, but his diet was usually of the sparest, (Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes)

  • What do you mean by v3? (What is it about the phrase in bold that doesn't make sense to you—aside from it starting it with that?) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Jun 1 '19 at 14:03
  • The past participle form of a verb. I don't understand why the writer used "should" in that phrase. As far as I know, "should have verb3" forms imply regret. – Talha Özden Jun 1 '19 at 14:06
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"That he should have kept himself in training under the circumstances" is a noun phrase, the subject of "is remarkable".

"That" is a subordinator making the clause a noun phrase.

A less literary way of saying the same thing is:

"It is remarkable that he should have kept himself in training under the circumstances".

"Should", like most modals, has a range of meanings. The most common one is that of obligation (or duty, or the best chance of success), and that is what I think you are thinking of when you say "regret".

Here it does not have that meaning. It is a rather old fashioned usage, and in more modern writing would probably be "That he had kept himself in training under the circumstances". The used of "should have" (old-fashioned, as I say, but not completely obsolete) makes it more tentative: it is not saying that he did in fact kept himself in training and that was remarkable, but that even the possibility that he might keep himself in training is remarkable. (The surrounding text indicates that he did in fact keep himself in training, so this tentativeness is just a stylistic foible, but a common one in writing of that period).

  • Thanks, but I really can't be sure what the "of" means in the marked phrase? "The most common one is that of obligation" – Talha Özden Jun 8 '19 at 13:02
  • "The most common one is that of obligation" = "The most common meaning is the meaning of obligation". – Colin Fine Jun 8 '19 at 14:22
  • I still have trouble with it. I just can't understand the function of "of" here? What does "the meaning of obligation" means in that sentence? To me, it means " something that you must do" – Talha Özden Jun 8 '19 at 14:39
  • I am talking about the meanings of the word should. The most common meaning is that somebody is obliged or required to do something: a meaning of obligation. – Colin Fine Jun 8 '19 at 14:52

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