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This sentence in bold is from a text in which someone tells about how the death of their mother has affected themselves even after years, although she tried many ways to cope with it. Here is the paragraph with the sentence and the link

Source: "I kept reliving the moment my mother died." from The Guardian:

"On my way home after that workshop session, various difficult memories I hadn’t thought about for a long time suddenly resurfaced, as if my brain had been given permission to open the floodgates. I cried hard that night. But since then I have stopped being haunted by my mum’s final moments. Not that grief ever ends. *You learn to exist with it. There is a stone in your heart. Sometimes, it is big; it rubs and makes you bleed. Sometimes, it is small and you can almost forget it is there.

The structure of the sentence "Not that grief ever ends" is different. It is not in a usual structure, so I couldn't quite be sure about the meaning. I thought that:

  1. It may be an inverted version of a standard sentence structure: (subject+verb+object) "That grief does not ever end."

  2. It may also be a shortened version of the stucture commonly used such as "It is not that I don't like cooking, I just don't have time."

Similary, this sentence may be a shortened version of "(It is) not that grief ever ends, ....(meaning, Don't imagine a situation where this grief will someday go away, there is no such thing it going away, it would be a wrong assumption if you consider it that way, you just have to learn to exist with it.)

So, which one is it? Is it a shortened form of "It is not that grief ever ends...."? OR is it an inverted structure of a regular sentence which would have been "That grief does not ever end."?

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    It's a clause preceded by a negation. You can rationalize it how you want, for example, "I'm not saying that...", or "It's not true that...". It has the form of a subordinate clause, but there's nothing there that it's subordinate to. Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 6:13
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    It is a shortened form of something like "This is not to say that grief ever ends." Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 7:41
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    Your second guess is correct. The technical term for this is ellipsis, i.e. when we miss out words that are obvious or needn't be said. Another example: "Time to go home!" = "It's time to go home!"
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 9:58
  • Thank you for adding a source link. I have added the title and source publication. In future please note that a link is good but not sufficient, full attribution is needed. Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 13:53

1 Answer 1

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It's a specific phrasing of "It is not that grief ever ends, but [other factors occur]" similar as with your cooking example.

On one hand it's increasingly common in English to drop implied subject. "I" is increasingly dropped - "Went shopping, got a new bag". "It" and "It's" is commonly dropped. "What's the weather?" "Raining." Thus the leading "It is" is dropped. On the other hand, the argument of opposites - the "but" - is complex enough that it requires several sentences to be presented, so our clause is cut with a full stop, and the arguments follow as new sentences. That way this sentence is a part of a larger structure, requiring the follow-up to give the full thought.

The sort of inversion you thought of is fairly rare in English, present either in quite fossilized word pairs, archaic expression or in heavy stylization of language for poetic purposes. It won't occur like that in a regular, non-poetic text in a phrase where it's not usual.

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