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Is man not extremely foolish, to be unable to see this?

How is that different from

Is man not extremely foolish if he is unable to see this?

  • Obviously the sentence is supposed to be dramatic. // In the first sentence "man" is the singular form, but it is being used to mean all human beings (let's throw women into the mix!). // The second sentence has the same twist but the "he" rattles around my brain a bit. It just makes the sentence a bit harder to parse. // So rewriting I understand both sentences to say: "Are humans not extremely foolish if they are unable to see this?" – MaxW Nov 7 '15 at 6:32
  • The end of the second sentence would make more sense if the start of it was 'Is a man not ...'. The first sentence is definitely philosophical and refers to 'humanity' in general. The second sentence (even with the added 'a') still retains most of that, but is just a bit less grandiloquent (high-faluting, rhetorical, pompous) – user3600150 Nov 7 '15 at 11:57
  • Why is there a comma before "to be"? – SovereignSun Mar 29 '17 at 10:38
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These two sentences are probably used in a rhetorical context, in which case they would convey the same thing. But they do not actually have the same meaning.

Is man not extremely foolish, to be unable to see this?

This asserts "Man (in general, or at least some people) is unable to see this." and asks the question "Is he not extremely foolish?"

Is man not extremely foolish if he is unable to see this?

This asks "If man is unable to see this, is he not extremely foolish?" and leaves open the question of whether man is actually able to "see this" or not.

Of course, as a rhetorical question both mean the same thing, namely:

It is extremely foolish for anyone not to be able to see this.

  • "and leaves open the question of whether man is actually able to "see this" or not.". - I don't think it does. The second question is phrased as...well...a question, but it's really more of a statement that man is extremely foolish because he can't see "this". The "if" isn't really intended to convey the possibility that he actually can see "this". It's all rhetorical. – nnnnnn May 25 '16 at 13:19
  • @nnnnnn: I'm a native speaker and the two sentences do convey a different meaning to me. It's possible that this comes down to the dialectical variation in English, but I doubt that. – user21820 May 25 '16 at 15:42
  • I'm a native speaker too. It could be a dialect thing (I'm Australian), or it could be just that we don't happen to agree. – nnnnnn May 26 '16 at 2:56
  • @nnnnnn: Since you're a native speaker, I'll just conclude that it's a dialect thing. Just like in my place we don't use double negatives, and when we do it means a different thing than when Americans do, since double negatives are common enough for them that it can even be unmarked for emphasis. I'm quite sure most native speakers here will interpret the second question to mean just "Man had better be able to see this, otherwise he would be extremely foolish.", while the comma in the first question causes the "to be unable to see this" to be taken as a non-restrictive clause. – user21820 May 26 '16 at 12:37
  • So the first question would be interpreted where I live as "Man is extremely foolish, since he is unable to see this!". – user21820 May 26 '16 at 12:38
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Both sentences, regardless of nuance, are saying the same thing.

Let's see if we can explain it in everyday terms. Let us say there is a person who has proven to be conceited, arrogant, rude, misogynistic, racist, and thinks that might is right, fame is most important and that money can buy anything. He tells everyone that he is just like them in spite of all evidence to the contrary. He says he will work for their interests even though we've seen and have proof that he doesn't always pay his bills or do what he says.

Is man not extremely foolish, to be unable to see this? Or, Is man not extremely foolish if he is unable to see this? Yes, but 'man' in this example wants a change and will take the man offering change even if it is obviously bad to some.

The nuances might be employed by an English speaker to mean fractionally different things, but for English learners, imo, the shades are too close to differentiate between.

(Dear Mod -- feel free to delete my little rant..;))

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