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Was he imagining things? Could all this have anything to do with the Potters? If it did... if it got out that they [the Dursleys] were related to a pair of [wizards] - well, he didn't think he could bear it.
The Dursleys got into bed. Mrs. Dursley fell asleep quickly but Mr. Dursley lay awake, turning it all over in his mind. His last, comforting thought before he fell asleep was that even if the Potters were involved, there was no reason for them to come near him and Mrs. Dursley. The Potters knew very well what he and Petunia thought about them and their kind.... He couldn't see how he and Petunia could get mixed up in anything that might be going on - he yawned and turned over - it couldn't affect them....
How very wrong he was.
(Harry Potter)

‘How’ is one of the most difficult words in reading English. Does it mean ‘the reason’ in the context: ‘He couldn’t see the reason he and Petunia could get mixed up in anything that might be going on’?

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In this particular case, how can be replaced with the phrase "any way in which":

He couldn't see any way in which he and Petunia could get mixed up in anything that might be going on...

  • Does the sentence mean: There’s no way, no possibility he and Petunia could - ? – Listenever Feb 25 '13 at 13:43
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    It means only that Mr Dursley was unable to see any way in which they could get mixed up in the world of wizards that Harry Potter's parents were part of. Because the Dursleys despised the world of wizards, and because the Potters knew that, he thought that he and his wife were safe from becoming involved. They didn't want to be involved, the Potters knew that, so they wouldn't ask him and his wife to get involved. He thought that there was no possibility: he didn't foresee that the Potters would ask the Dursleys to be foster parents for Harry, however. – user264 Feb 25 '13 at 13:52
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It means "in what way or manner." The sentence is not about the reason they could get mixed up, but in which way they could get mixed up.

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In this context, you can think of "how" as short for "how it could be possible".

He couldn't see how it could be possible [that] he and Petunia could get mixed up in anything that might be going on

(I put the "that" in brackets to show that it's a separate word added in to make it grammatically correct.)

Mr. Dursley is not able to think of any series of events that would lead to the events (getting "mixed up in anything like that") happening.

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