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  1. #1
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    Default "not his to tell"

    Hello,

    I recently came across the following sentence :

    "(John)... thought it best not to trouble me with facts that were, after all, not his to tell".

    Could I ask you how you'd analyse "his to tell" ?

    1) Do you understand the sentence as, "it was not his responsibility (or - his business) - "to tell" wold then be some sort of infinitive cause (?)

    2) or rather as "for him to tell" ? ("(John)... thought it best not to trouble me with facts that were, after all, not for him to tell") ?

    3) A third solution would probably be to intrerpret "his" as a pronoun whose antecedent would be "facts" and "to tell" as an infinitive relative clause (("(John)... thought it best not to trouble me with facts that were, after all, not facts that he had to tell") .

    I am at a loss what to think. Could I ask you what your opinion is ?

    Many thanks in advance !!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: "not his to tell"

    The facts he is relating have nothing to do with him; it's not his place to share the information. For example, John may have found out that his friend's wife is having an affair. This information does not pertain to John in any way, and he should not repeat this information to anyone. This fact is not his to tell.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: "not his to tell"

    Thanks a lot, Ouisch.

    Would you analyse "his to tell" as a relative clause ("were not facts that were in his interest to tell") or as a nominal clause("these facts were not for him to tell"). Although both these parahrases are awkward, my impression is that both are broadly acceptable in terms of meaning. And this is what puzzles me - I cannot decide how to categorize "to tell" grammatically.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: "not his to tell"

    Stephan, "his" is a possessive pronoun in form (it modifies a noun), but in our example its noun ([facts]) has been omitted, it's redundant,

    EX: ... facts that were not his [facts] to tell

    so "his" functions substantively as a noun,

    EX: EX: ... facts that were not his to tell

    The words to tell form an infinitive verb phrase and function as an absolute noun phrase,

    EX: ... facts that were not his facts to tell

    1a) It was neither his responsibility nor his business to tell the facts.
    to tell (infinitive; absolute phrase)

    1b) To tell the facts was neither his responsibility nor his business.
    to tell (infinitive; absolute noun phrase)

    2) ... facts that were, after all, not for him to tell.
    to tell (infinitive; variation on his to tell)

    This one is different,

    3) ... facts that were, after all, not facts that he had to tell; i.e., that he was willing to tell
    to tell (infinitive; object of the modal "had to"; e.g., he had to tell me to stop chewing gum)

  5. #5
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    Default Re: "not his to tell"

    Indeed. I can see no other solution.

    Many thanks for that, Casiopea !!

  6. #6
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    Default Re: "not his to tell"

    You're welcome, Stephan.

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