They were pointed, if fatherly, remarks that echoed the themes he has stressed in his papacy but ones that resonated all the more in a newly renovated cathedral surrounded by the luxurious shops of Fifth Avenue.

New York Times

I'm not sure the meaning of the phrase "if fatherly" in the above sentence.

I'm not familiar with the syntax using the structure 'adjective, if adjective'.

  • 1
    Wow, it's tough to search for information about this structure!
    – sumelic
    Sep 25, 2015 at 9:36
  • @sumelic I searched online but the result was unclear. I guess its meaning is similar to 'although'. Still, I'm not sure about it. That's why I posted this question to get a piece of advice.
    – InfimumMaximum
    Sep 25, 2015 at 9:42
  • Sorry, did that come across as sarcastic? It wasn't meant to be. Since "if" is a "stop character" that most search engines ignore, it genuinely is hard to search for it – I just tried checking if there were any other posts on ELU about it, and couldn't sort through all the irrelevant results that were brought up.
    – sumelic
    Sep 25, 2015 at 9:45
  • In this context, it means "although" or "but."
    – sumelic
    Sep 25, 2015 at 9:45

3 Answers 3


It's as sumelic and DRF mentioned: it's probably the best (for learners who are unfamiliar with this structure) to read this if as although.

Your sentence:

They were pointed, if fatherly, remarks that echoed the themes ...
(= They were pointed remarks, although (they were) fatherly ones, that echoed the themes ...)

Practical English Usage by Michael Swan explains this if-structure, like this:

261.13 if meaning 'although'

In a formal style, if can be used with a similar meaning to although. This is common in the structure if + adjective (with no verb). If is not as definite as although; it can suggest that what is being talked about is a matter of opinion, or not very important.
   His style, if simple, is pleasant to read.
   The profits, if a little lower than last year's, are still extremely healthy.

  • One thing that I do not understand is whose opinion would it suggest. Does it denote the opinion of the author or does jt denote the opinion that a reader might have in mind or does it denote the opinion of a third party that is irrelevant? For example: in the sentence 'His style, if simple, is pleasant to read', can I read it as: 'Although some might consider his writing to be simple, it is pleasant to read'? Nov 4, 2022 at 3:18

I'm not sure where the [not] came from in julia's answer, but if it is there it gives the sentence a completely different meaning.

When you say,

Something is adjective one, if adjective two, ...

the second adjective is essentially there to molify the first. In other words you could rephrase such a construction into

Something is adjective one, even though it is also adjective 2, ...

An example here will probably help

Black is a fashionable, if sometimes overused, color.

This means we admit that black is overused, but it is still fashionable despite that.

In the case you quote the pope's remarks are pointed (i.e. penetrating, biting) even though they are fatherly which here means given in good spirit, as a father would to his child.

On the other hand if you add in not as in

His remarks are pointed, if not aggressive,

You get pretty much the opposite meaning. Here the second adjective goes further than the first. Meaning roughly his remarks were at least pointed possible you could go as far as think they were aggressive. The second adjective is stronger than the first with a similar meaning.

Edit: Actually having though about it more I realize ",if not adjective2," can also be used to convey that adjective1 doesn't go quite as far as adjective2. I believe that the correct meaning must be decided depending on context and possibly word tone.


Including the paragraph before helps with this context:

“Rest is needed, as are moments of leisure and self-enrichment, but we need to learn how to rest in a way that deepens our desire to serve with generosity,” he said.

They were pointed, if [not] fatherly, remarks that echoed the themes he has stressed in his papacy...

Basically saying the Pope's remarks were pointed and one might even call them fatherly.

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