consider below text:

Throughout literature we find recurring tales of forthright people who are outspoken in condemning illegal practices only to be brought low themselves when they, or members of their family commit such acts.

As I search, I found that (given to here) to be brought low means decline of someone's position, credit, or dignity.

I think, the writer tries to make the point of "These guys, when one of their family commit such acts, They only bring low themselves "

I have tow questions:

  1. Am I right about the author's intent ?

  2. I cannot understand that only in the middle of the sentence. For me, it is more sensible to write sentence having pattern of that "X only when Y ". I am confused about the structure used in the original text.

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    Other answerers explained well about "brought low" and "only". I just want to point out that the sentence says the person is "brought low" whether they commit the act or a family member does. It doesn't say whether the family members might be "brought low" as well. So it doesn't mean, as you suggested, that only he would be "brought low". – Brian Hitchcock Aug 24 '15 at 5:50
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    For the only part, ...only to do something: used for saying that what happens next is disappointing or unpleasant; I tore open the box, only to discover that some of the parts were missing. – Damkerng T. Aug 24 '15 at 6:15
  • @BrianHitchcock yes In my suggested sentence, the they refers to (these guys). Under this consideration, did I made a mistake in writing ? I mean, does the suggested sentence imply something different from what is my intent. – Cardinal Aug 24 '15 at 9:46
  • @DamkerngT. Is the comma necessary in such sentences ? I don't see the comma in original sentence while your and TRomaon's examples uses comma. – Cardinal Aug 24 '15 at 10:00
  • IMHO, the comma before only to ... is not mandatory, but it's probably reasonably used more often than not, to add the rhythm to the sentence. – Damkerng T. Aug 24 '15 at 10:04

To be brought low by one's misdeeds is to go from a social position of high standing to one of utter disrepute. For example, a politician who campaigns on a moral-values platform and then is discovered partying in a hotel room with cocaine and prostitutes.

In the sentence, the only-clause introduces a reversal of fortune or a thwarted expectation.

She took the hour-long bus ride to the airport, only to learn that her flight had been cancelled.

He drove his new car to the car-wash, where he had it washed and waxed, only to have it soiled ten minutes afterwards by a flock of starlings which had just been eating mulberries.

He was congratulating himself on the great time he was making on the drive north, only to be delayed at the border crossing.

They took a cab to the movie theater, only to find that the 10PM showing was sold out.


You indeed understood the sentence correctly.

The word only can have different meanings. It is often used as a restriction, but that is not the case here. In your sentence it has the meaning of a bad result as the consequence of an action. Here's a definition from the Cambridge Dictionary:

used when saying that something unpleasant will happen as a result of an action or a failure to act:

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