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I am not sure if there is any difference of meaning between

Our whole life is a struggle of return to ourselves.

and

Our whole life is a struggle to return to ourselves.

Are they both correct? Could you explain why any of them is incorrect? Is "return" a noun in the first sentence and a verb in the second?

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  • For some reason I cannot fully explain the first one sounds awkward to me and almost wrong. The second one seems OK though. It might help to have more context.
    – mdewey
    Dec 17, 2020 at 16:25
  • Syntactically, we usually say something is a struggle to do something (infinitive verb), but it's perfectly possible to say things like My life is a struggle of finding ways to avoid boredom (continuous verb, functioning as part of a noun phrase). Dec 17, 2020 at 18:07
  • In general, the metaphoric usage find oneself will be understood as a somewhat "touchy-feely, woolly" way of saying come to understand and accept one's inner nature, but return to oneself is just hopelessly vague new-age-speak, evoking mysticism and/or "noble savage" philosophy. Dec 17, 2020 at 18:15
  • Most such religious contexts are about "advancing" (towards a Paradise set in the future), rather than "returning" (to the Garden of Eden set in the past), but you know best what you're trying to say. Whatever - if you're going to qualify "a struggle", you'd usually do that using an infinitive verb (untensed, complete with to, as in Life is a struggle to survive). My example (the struggle of finding survival strategies) is "syntactically valid", but it's not particularly idiomatic, so you should probably avoid trying to copy that version. Dec 17, 2020 at 18:39

2 Answers 2

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The second example is correct: the difference between the two is that "of return" is referring to return as a noun/gerund (a specific instance of returning) versus the infinitive verb "to return", which refers to the act of returning in general.

In this context, the operative phrase of your sentence is "life is a struggle". But a struggle to do what? To return to ourselves: the act of returning is the struggle, not an instance of returning anywhere specific. The preposition of implies that the struggle is "owned" or possessed by the return, whereas the infinitive verb to return describes the struggle: the struggle owns the act of returning...the return IS the struggle, which is what you are wanting to say here.

EDIT: And actually, thinking of it more, you could say "...life is a struggle of returning to ourselves" and that would also be correct, since now the act of "returning to ourselves" is the direct object being equated to struggle instead of just a return, and ourselves is no longer the indirect/dative object, but linked by a reflexive present participle (ie "we are returning to ourselves" - we are the subject of that phrase, but it's a dangling participle because the subject we is implied in the context of "our whole life", since we possess our own lives). So adding -ing for "of returning" would work better than leaving it out if you were to use of, but "to return" is still best because it does not make use of a dangling participle (which is sometimes ok, but that's its own question).

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Your second version just sounds more natural.

None of them are incorrect, per se, and there is nothing wrong with your second version

Our whole life is a struggle to return to ourselves.

Your first version uses "return" as an abstract noun.

Our whole life is a struggle of return to ourselves.

This is also grammatical—we say "A person of interest". However, "return" is harder to read when it is a noun and not a verb.

For instance, we still use "meeting" and not "meet" because "meet" is not distinct as a noun. Therefore, contrasted with the alternative, this version sounds clunky and almost wrong because it is not phrased as follows.

Our whole life is a struggle of returning to ourselves.

Thus, I think the second version sounds simply natural. Though, the first version is a close contender after the rephrasing. If we are being more lenient, they are both grammatical.

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