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I came up with some sentences like the ones below:

1) What does it mean for a survivor to forgive the gunman?

2) What does it mean for Christians to get involved in politics?

3) what does it mean for an object to be fake?

It seems that instead of the above sentences we could simply write:

1') What does it mean that a survivor forgives the gunman?

2')What does it mean that Christians get involved in politics?

3') what does it mean that an object is fake?

Question#1: Are the both groups equal in terms of their communicated meanings?

Question#2: Can somebody grammatically analyze the first group of sentences?

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    They mean the same. I see you have previously asked quite similar question. Please go through the answers there. It will be relevant here also. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/44883/… Jan 22, 2015 at 6:29
  • Thanks for pointing this out. Yes it seems they are the same structures I did not notice!
    – qartal
    Jan 22, 2015 at 6:52
  • I remember because I have written an answer there :) If you could understand that, I am sure you can even answer this question also. Please write your answer, if you have understood :) Jan 22, 2015 at 6:54

2 Answers 2

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There can be a difference of meaning.

What does it mean for a survivor to forgive the gunman?

That can mean, What are the emotional and psychological implications, for the survivor, to forgive the gunman? That is, "for a survivor" focuses attention upon the survivor as the sentient being.

What does it mean that a survivor forgive(s) the gunman?

Although this second formulation means much the same as the first, the emphasis is on the verb forgive, and even though there must be one to do the forgiving, the question is posed more abstractly.

An even greater distinction can be made with the question about Christians, where "for Christians" would focus on the implications, for those Christians, of getting involved in politics, and "that Christians" could even be understood to be placing the focus on the electorate at large, that is, what does it mean for the country when Christians get involved in politics? Or it could be a question about that nature of the involvement, from a political point-of-view.

As for grammatical analysis, the questions could be understood in two ways.

You could be asking about the language itself:

What does it mean for "a survivor to forgive the gunman"?

Or you could be asking about the real-world referents of the words:

What does it mean, for the survivor, to forgive a gunman?

The preposition "for" operates differently, depending on the meaning. In the question about the language per se, the object of the preposition for is the entire phrase inside quotation marks. In the question about the real-word referents of the words, the object of the preposition *for" is "the survivor".

The verb "mean" also has different meanings as well. In the question about the language per se, the question "What does it mean" could be paraphrased "What do the words signify?" In the question about the real-world referents, the question "What does it mean" could be paraphrased as "What are the effects upon, or the emotional implications for, the survivor?"

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  • In the first interpretation as you termed "question about the language", I am wondering if using for is incorrect / redundant; that is, instead of saying 'What does it mean for "a survivor to forgive the gunman"?' We could say 'What does it mean "a survivor to forgive the gunman"?'. Is using "for" necessary then?
    – qartal
    Jan 22, 2015 at 19:03
  • What does it mean for "an X to do Y"? OR What does "an x does y" mean?
    – TimR
    Jan 24, 2015 at 1:59
  • As I understood you mean that What does it mean for "an X to do Y"? and What does "an x does y" mean? both imply the same meaning exactly, but are asked with different formulation (syntax)? And "for" is grammatically necessary in the first formulation?
    – qartal
    Jan 25, 2015 at 0:29
  • Yes, "for" is grammatically necessary in the first formulation.
    – TimR
    Jan 25, 2015 at 4:22
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It seems that the above structure is the same as what is already widely discussed in this forum. Thanks to @Man_From_India reminding this to me.

This is the link to the other question and its following elaborate discussion.

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  • I meant for you to write an answer :) not just the link. This is not an answer, it's more of a comment. Jan 25, 2015 at 14:59

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