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Let’s consider the following quote from “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens

”Now, if, during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time.”

The facts they are based on are the opposite of what is expressed and they refer to an unreal past condition and its probable past result. So the facts are hypothetical in the past.

The way of how most inevitably and indubitably, which expresses a certainty, can get along with the hypothetical (uncertain) facts, in the same context, puzzles me.

I’m hundred percent sure that the quote is flawless and even I can imagine a similar example:

If I had been aboard that plane then I would certainly have been killed.

There might be an explanation but I’m not hundred percent sure which is why I posted the question here.

  • In general, a simpler example could help. For example, "If she had shot him in the chest, he would surely have been dead." – Damkerng T. Jul 29 '14 at 16:18
  • @DamkerngT., thank you, I understand, I know it's correct but I can't figure out how can they get along. – Lucian Sava Jul 30 '14 at 7:00
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A hypothesis can have a very high degree of certainty. For instance, I hypothesize that if I drop a rock from my hand, it will fall to the ground. The chance of that happening is pretty much 100%. I suppose in principle that something weird could happen to the rock before it hits the ground—a bird could swoop in and grab it or something—but that's pretty unlikely. I'm comfortable with saying that if I drop the rock, it will inevitably and indubitably fall to the ground. It's a very strong hypothesis. And putting it in the past, if I had dropped the rock, it would have inevitably and indubitably fallen to the ground.

(Indubitably is a pretty rare word, by the way, just so you know.)

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Dangph is correct that it is possible for a hypothetical to have a near-certain outcome.

On the other hand, this example seems to be a joke. There are two levels of irony:

  • One would expect "careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and [wise] doctors" to be helpful to a recuperating patient. Instead, Dickens says their attention is deadly.

  • The second is the contradiction you noticed. This is a hypothetical with a doubtful outcome, but Dickens claims the poor result is "most inevitabl[e] and indubitabl[e]". This shows that Dickens is exaggerating, and gives the reader permission to laugh.

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