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"could... but" structure and more

Posted by GPP on September 11, 2003

In Reply to: "Could... but" structure and more posted by GPP on September 11, 2003

: : : Hi folks,
: : : Could you kind give me some advice on these?

: : : 1.I'm puzzled by the "could... but" structure here!
: : : "Though miles apart, could men but live forever dreaming they shared this moonlight endlessly!" wrote Song Dynasty of China poet Su Shi in his well-known poem.

: : : 2.I saw this kind of discount ad:
: : : "Sale rail: everything less than $10 here!"
: : : What does rail mean?

: : : 3.Is "Dirty Look Special" a kind of staring eyes?

: : : 4.Do you think "is" in "All this is can be done" should be removed?

: : : "So far, the poplar, eucalyptus, apple and coffee trees are among those being engineered. All this is can be done today because we have a better understanding of tree genomes."

: : 1. The poet (or the translator) is expressing a wish, using a poetic form of syntax that would never appear in ordinary speech or writing. This construction is somewhere on the far side of "Would that it were so!" "But" means "only" in the context of the poem.

: : 2. The rail is probably a rack to hang clothes or other merchandise on.

: : 3. I don't know.

: : 4. Yes, remove "is."

: I agree (and also have never heard of #3); but in #1 you cannot make a direct substitution of the word. Instead you would need to turn the phrase around to say "If only men, though miles apart, could live forever dreaming they shared this moonlight endlessly!" The length of the passage makes it harder to see what's happening to the words; stripping it down gives the simple sentence 'Could men but live!' This can then be turned around to say 'If men could only live!'

'If only men could live' has essentially the same meaning as 'If men could only live', except that the first version is a little ambiguous, because the reader might think the 'only' refers to 'men' rather than to 'could live'. 'Only if men could live' would mean something different, because here 'only' would apparently refer to 'if'. Sorry if I've confused you--or am being even more confusing now. 'Only' is a tricky word in English; it could go at the beginning, or end, or between any of the words in the phrase 'if men could live', and would change its meaning either very slightly, or radically. But I'm afraid I've strayed from your 'could ... but' question.