"Harry Potter, do you know what unicorn blood is used for?"
"No," said Harry, startled by the odd question. "We've only used the horn and tail hair in Potions."
"That is because it is a monstrous thing, to slay a unicorn," said Firenze. "Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenseless to save yourself, and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Is the bold part the short form of ‘one who has everything to gain’?

3 Answers 3


I think this is an instance of a conjunct constituent rather than an ellipsis (conjunction reduction); that is, I would parse it as:

... one who has [Direct Object [NP nothing to lose] and [NP everything to gain] ] ...

The presence of the comma bracket around and everything to gain do give some support to the notion that this is a reduced supplemental clause:

... one [who has nothing to lose], and [who (also) has everything to gain ]

But I'm inclined to read those commas as rhetorical rather than syntactical: they delineate the rising emphasis, as if to say:

... one who has [ NOT MERELY [nothing to lose] BUT ALSO [everything to gain ] ]... or

... one who has BOTH [ [nothing to lose] AND [everything to gain] ]

  • So you mean ‘nothing to lose’ and ‘everything to gain’ are the two sides of the same coin?
    – Listenever
    Aug 3, 2013 at 13:59
  • @Listenever W e l l . . . They don't necessarily imply each other. A specific action might offer you nothing to lose, but nothing to gain either, and vice versa. But they are often spoken of together, so it's practically a [fixed phrase]google.com/…). Anyway, I read this as syntactically = "one who has [A&B]" rather than "one [who has A] and [who has B]". As kiam says, "[one who has A] and [one who has B]" is Right Out. Aug 3, 2013 at 14:13
  • What do you think 'everything to gain' is a supplementive as a noun phrase or a verbless phrase (=small clause), meaning 'everything is to gain'
    – Listenever
    Aug 3, 2013 at 14:14
  • 1
    @Listenever This is another instance of the HAVE X to VERB construction discussed in your earlier question. You could paraphrase it as "one who expects to lose nothing and gain everything". Aug 3, 2013 at 14:18
  • I find this answer correct but overly technical for an ELL person. As a linguist, I appreciate it but if I were learning English, I would not understand it.
    – Lambie
    Dec 16, 2016 at 15:49

Rephrasing that sentence with more words, you get:

Only one who has nothing to lose, and has everything to gain, would commit such a crime.

The sentence is speaking of a person who has nothing to lose and has everything to gain. You should not rephrase it as follows:

Only one who has nothing to lose, and one who has everything to gain, would commit such a crime.

In this case, the sentence seems speaking of two different people.


The two expressions are: to have nothing to lose and to have everything to gain [from some action]. The first: /to have nothing to lose/ by doing some X is heard very frequently in English. The second one is heard less frequently but is also common.

That said, putting them together is also a standard form of expression, they, in effect, can be seen as "going together" but in this order: to have nothing to lose one first, followed by the everything to gain.

They can, however, be used separately and on their own: He has everything to gain by being a nice guy.

To answer your question about /Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime nothing to lose, and everything to gain./

Yes, it is a shortened form. And a general rule in English is that you do not have to repeat a verb to create a full second subject and predicate when it is obvious.

a) She has a huge amount of property and little money. = b) She has a huge amount of property and she has little money.

a) and b) mean the same thing. Grammatically, they are different: a) has a compound object and b) is a compound sentence.

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