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For this couple of days, I'm reading a book titled English sentences Japanese people always get wrong (Written by Toshiya Echizen), and have some questions regarding the interpretation of some example sentences introduced in it.

First of all, I would like to know what your immediate interpretation for the following two sentences would be like when you just read them.

  1. With no jobs Bobby would be happy.
  2. With no jobs would Bobby be happy. (Note: This is not a question sentence.)

Secondly, I would like to know if you agree with the below explanation given by the author of the book. (Note: The original explanation is written in Japanese in the book, and the English explanation below is my translation.)

  1. With no jobs Bobby would be happy.
    (Author’s interpretation)
    a) Because Bobby has no job, he must be happy. or
    b) Although Bobby has no job, he must be happy.
  1. With no jobs would Bobby be happy.
    (Author’s interpretation)
    No matter what kind of job Bobby takes, he won't be happy.

The author explains that:

The "no" in the first example sentence modify just the subsequent word "jobs", not the entire sentence, so it does not cause a subject-auxiliary inversion within the sentence. (Bobby would be happy.)

In the second example, on the other hand, the words "With no jobs" suggest "No matter what jobs ....., someone/something won't be.....", and the negation refers to the entire sentence, so it causes a subject-auxiliary inversion within the sentence. (would Bobby be happy)

Do you agree to this explanation? Is there anything you disagree or anything you can add?

With this question, I have no intention to challenge the author’s explanation. I'm just curious whether the explanation is the common understanding for most native English speakers.

  • In context, I can see that 2 is grammatical, and has that meaning. Without context (in your title), I thought it ungrammatical, and didn't see the intended meaning. – Colin Fine Aug 20 at 11:46
  • It's not idiomatic. Native English speakers would puzzle over any such construction. They would say something like: There are no jobs that satisfy Bobby (or make Bobby happy.) – Ronald Sole Aug 20 at 12:45
  • I read your subject line before I read the full question - and I reached the same conclusions as the author of the book about what these sentences mean. I think "With no job would Bobby be happy" (rather than "jobs") works better, though, and I grant you that neither version of sentence 2 is particularly likely to come up in casual conversation. – rjpond Aug 20 at 15:01
  • Thank you all for your comment. It's interesting to know that the perceptions of the sentences of you three are slightly different. Ronald totally disagrees with the book author’s explanation; Colin says the second sentence is context-dependent; and "rjpond" has the same understanding as the author’s. The book author introduces another similar example in the book: (1)In no clothes she looks sexy. (2)In no clothes does she look sexy. The author’s interpretations are respectively "She looks sexy when she puts no clothes on." and "She doesn't look sexy no matter what clothes she puts on." – TeeBee Aug 20 at 23:28
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I would read the first as meaning "If Bobby didn't have any jobs, then he would be happy." There should be a comma between "jobs" and "happy", though, and it would make more sense to say "job" rather than "jobs". The word "would" indicates a counterfactual. To say that Bobby doesn't have a job, and is happy, the correct phrasing would be "With no job, Bobby is happy", although even that would be ambiguous as whether it means "Bobby currently doesn't have a job and is happy" or "During the periods in which Bobby didn't have a job, he was happy."

For the second, "There are no jobs that Bobby would be happy with", or more formally, "There are no jobs with which Bobby would be happy", is a reasonable reading, but the current wording comes across as archaic and it's likely that intended meaning would not occur to a reader.

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