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How does the meaning differ for the following two sentences?

  1. Even then, the subject seemed as fascinating a problem as there could be.
  2. Even then, the subject seemed as fascinating as a problem could be.
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2 Answers 2

The first one assumes that there exists a set of finite fascinating problem. The subject, then, is a member of that set of fascinating problem, and is fascinating itself.

The second one does not assume that there is such a set. IT says, however, that the subject is fascinating to the extent of how the problems can be fascinating.

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There's no assumption that the set of fascinating things is finite: just that there is such a thing as a "most fascinating thing". –  Seamus Nov 4 '13 at 12:07
    
I can concede to that as it will be much easier to explain your way compared to how I stated it :) –  gelolopez Nov 4 '13 at 12:27

There's no real difference.

If you put the sentences under a microscope, you could analyze them like this:

 Sentence1  Sentence2
  True       True           The subject seemed to be as fascinating as a problem could be
  True       Unspecified    The subject seemed to be a problem

That is, the second sentence doesn't literally say that the subject seemed to be a problem. But the reader is unlikely to come away with any other impression, so it doesn't really make a difference.

(Unless the context strongly implies otherwise, but we have no context here.)

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