The claws scraped at a cloak they should have readily tattered, only to have instead one nail snap off. [Warcraft: War of the Ancients #1]

The structure looks strange and I didn't ever see "instead" in the position like this.

  • It is "one nail" – vietphi Jan 1 '16 at 10:46
  • Sorry, I edited it – vietphi Jan 1 '16 at 10:47
  • 1
    The instead can occur in several places without loss of meaning. The phrase means that a nail had unexpectedly fallen off when it should have been stronger. – Peter Jan 1 '16 at 10:51
  • 1
    @vietphi I think maybe the main part of the sentence confused you. (I'm sorry if you can understand it clearly already.) The sentence can be trimmed down to The claws scraped at a cloak they should have readily tattered (i.e., without the "only to have ..." part) without mush loss in meaning. – Damkerng T. Jan 1 '16 at 12:06
  • 3
    Technically speaking it's "grammatical", but it's a terrible example of written English - even worse than the clumsy use of "latter" in your other question. In this case, transitive to tatter is rare/obsolete, and readily (willingly) is only marginally acceptable with a "non-sentient" subject like claws. But the worst aspect is that the surface parallelism of should have X, only to have Y doesn't work because have is performing different syntactic/semantic functions. My advice: don't use text like this to learn English. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jan 1 '16 at 13:36

You are right to sense some strangeness here. There are two patterns being awkwardly combined.

Instead of tattering the cloak, one of the nails broke.

"Only to have..." is used when someone is disappointed or thwarted, so there should be a sentient being (a noun capable of having, i.e. experiencing) in the main clause:

He scraped with the claws, which should have readily tattered the cloak, only to have one of the nails break off.

The original sentence, in combining "instead" and "only to have", and in leaving out the sentient being, is something of a mess.

If the claws in this game are a sentient creature, that might explain the use of "only to have". Are they sentient?

P.S. OK, as it turns out,"the claws" is a creature. So we could say:

The Claws scraped at the cloak, which it should have readily tattered, only to have one of its nails snap off.

"Instead" could be placed at the end of that sentence (..."one of its nails snap off instead").

  • It is an imagined creature that has claws thank you. – vietphi Jan 1 '16 at 12:40
  • @vietphi: so the creature called "the claws" has volition? It can go where it wants to go and it can make choices? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 1 '16 at 12:56
  • yes, it is sth like a tiger, lion... But has many eyes and others thing – vietphi Jan 1 '16 at 12:58

In your example, instead is used for contrast.
The expectation is that the claw would normally tear the cloak with little effort (scraped)

Instead can be used in several different places without loss of meaning

only to have instead
instead only to have
only instead to have

it has the contrasting meaning of but

but a nail fell off

the meaning being the nails on the claws were not as strong as expected

The (nails on the) claws should have easily ripped the cloak apart but they did not, and as a result (of trying to rip the cloak) one nail fell off

The general structure is

something was expected/supposed to happen instead something else happened

I was supposed to fly to London today, instead the flight was cancelled.
I paid for a coffee, instead I got tea.

  • By the way, why is it using "only to have" instead of "only one snail snap off" – vietphi Jan 1 '16 at 12:00
  • +1, only instead of "only instead to have" I would suggest "only to have one nail snap off instead". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 1 '16 at 12:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.