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    #1

    if at all = ?

    While I'm reading The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan, a kind of odd phrase runs into me, which is as follows:

    1. (page 286, Chapter 6 The stuarts) Towering above the Stuart age were the two decades of civil war, revolution, and republican experiment which out to have changed fundamentally the course of English history, but which did so, if at all, very elusively.

    I guess it may have something to do with

    2. (page 62, Chapter 2 The Anglo-Saxon Period) Such a system could hardly be stable: when a king grew sick, poor, or mean his retinue would collapse, and his heirs, if they survived at all, would become sub-kings or followers of a new lord.

    What's more, I bump into it once more when looking up Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009:

    3. Under entry Five Good Emperors: the ancient Roman imperial succession of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, who presided over the most majestic days of the Roman Empire. It was not a bloodline; Nerva was raised to the principate by the assassins of Domitian, and the others were successively adopted heirs, each only distantly related to his predecessor if at all.

    I wonder that the authors may deliberately omit some words in order to make their respective articles neat and simple, whether or not there's someone here who'd give me a hand to restore the completely original sentences.

    Thanks a lot.

  1. buggles's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: if at all = ?

    Quote Originally Posted by coolfool View Post
    While I'm reading The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain by Kenneth O. Morgan, a kind of odd phrase runs into me, which is as follows:

    1. (page 286, Chapter 6 The stuarts) Towering above the Stuart age were the two decades of civil war, revolution, and republican experiment which out to have changed fundamentally the course of English history, but which did so, if at all, very elusively.

    I guess it may have something to do with

    2. (page 62, Chapter 2 The Anglo-Saxon Period) Such a system could hardly be stable: when a king grew sick, poor, or mean his retinue would collapse, and his heirs, if they survived at all, would become sub-kings or followers of a new lord.

    What's more, I bump into it once more when looking up Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009:

    3. Under entry Five Good Emperors: the ancient Roman imperial succession of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, who presided over the most majestic days of the Roman Empire. It was not a bloodline; Nerva was raised to the principate by the assassins of Domitian, and the others were successively adopted heirs, each only distantly related to his predecessor if at all.

    I wonder that the authors may deliberately omit some words in order to make their respective articles neat and simple, whether or not there's someone here who'd give me a hand to restore the completely original sentences.

    Thanks a lot.
    I don't think anything has been omitted. It seems to me that the writers use if at all to qualify a statement which seems to, but would not, appy to more than one situation.

    e.g. 1. The civil war changed the course of history in subtle ways or maybe it didn't change it at all.

    e.g. 2 The heirs may become sub-kings etc. or they may not even survive. (They may have been murdered.)

    e.g. 3 They may have been distantly related or they may not have been related at all.

    buggles(not a teacher)
    Last edited by buggles; 11-Mar-2009 at 16:08. Reason: Tidying up

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    #3

    Re: if at all = ?

    According to your kind response, I'm afraid the sentences may be rephrased as follows:

    1. The civil war changed the course of history in subtle ways, normally it shouldn’t have, but if it did at all.

    2. The heirs may become sub-kings, normally most of them wouldn’t survive, but if they did at all.

    3. They only distantly related to his predecessor, probably they might not, but if they did at all.

    Anyway, many thanks.

  2. buggles's Avatar
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    #4

    Re: if at all = ?

    Quote Originally Posted by coolfool View Post
    According to your kind response, I'm afraid the sentences may be rephrased as follows:

    1. The civil war changed the course of history in subtle ways, normally it shouldn’t have, but if it did at all.

    2. The heirs may become sub-kings, normally most of them wouldn’t survive, but if they did at all.

    3. They only distantly related to his predecessor, probably they might not, but if they did at all.

    Anyway, many thanks.
    I fear your new sentences have made things worse!

    "if at all" is used to indicate that whatever has been suggested might not have been the case. Have a look back at the three statements I've already given you. I'm afraid I can't think of how I could make it any more clear.

    Sorry,

    buggles

  3. Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: if at all = ?

    It really is a tricky expression.

    You could rephrase it: "or not at all" or "if that."

    I'll only visit for a short time, if at all. =
    I might visit briefly, and I might not visit. =
    If I do visit, it won't be for long. =
    I might not visit, and if I do, it will only be for a short time.


    You might be confused by the idiom "at all." Sometimes it's used to emphasize:

    I didn't get any coffee.
    I didn't get any coffee
    at all!

    ...and sometimes (as in your examples) it's used to express the possibility of nothingness. In:

    He rarely helps his brother, if at all.

    ...we're saying that his help is rare - and he might never help...at all.

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