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Your father climbed to some rough rocks near the coast to find out that under the rocks, our friend Lake lies severely wounded.

Is this usage of "to find something by chance (as a result of climbing)" correct?

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closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Josh61, Mari-Lou A, Zairja, Rory Alsop Aug 26 '14 at 9:05

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The whole sentence confuses me; I can't imagine a native speaker saying or writing this. The importance of the dependent clause is simply not compatible with all the elaboration in first part of the sentence. –  keshlam Aug 24 '14 at 18:28
Without knowing the context, any alternative is questionable. However, in most circumstances I would expect the statement to be two sentences: "Our friend Lake was severely wounded. Your father found him under some rough rocks near the coast." –  keshlam Aug 24 '14 at 18:44
This question appears to be off-topic because it is essentially seeking "writing advice" –  FumbleFingers Aug 24 '14 at 18:50
To me, I found out means either I discovered by some effort or I discovered something that I was not supposed to know. But I noticed in the memoirs of Richard Feinman a different use: just discovered. I don't know whether this is a UK/US difference, or an idiosyncracy of Feinman's (or mine). –  Colin Fine Aug 24 '14 at 20:11
At any rate, what is not correct is your putting whitespaces inside the parentheses. (Where have you even seen that? That is never, ever done. They go outside.) Likewise for your tagging the question "gerund". There is not a single gerund in the entire sentence. –  RegDwigнt Aug 24 '14 at 21:08

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The way it is written could be improved. As it stands it does suggest that 'your father' happened upon the discovery by chance. But that is largely due to the circumstances of this particular account.

Consider for a moment He looked up to see a dodo flying backwards.

It could mean either that he had just been told there was a dodo flying backwards, so he looked up to see it. But it could also mean that he looked up (for other reasons) and lo and behold there was a dodo flying backwards.

To be absolutely clear that something was discovered by chance you need to say something like:

He looked up, and what should he see but a dodo flying backwards. You can replace 'and what should he see' with many other phrases, such as 'to his great surprise', 'to his utter astonishment', etc.

You can also say He looked up, only to see a dodo flying backwards. This last does convey the idea that it was a discovery on his part. It would be a good way of dealing with your example:

Your father climbed to some rough rocks near the coast, only to find that under those rocks our friend Lake lay severely wounded

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Yes, only to find eliminates the ambiguity in the original, which allows the interpretation that he climbed the rocks in order to find his friend. –  Daniel Aug 24 '14 at 18:44
Yes; '[only] to find [that] ...' meaning 'and found [that] [surprise, surprise!] ... is rather dated. The meaning 'in order to' is far more common nowadays. The function and semantics of the word 'only' here (if included) present quite a challenge. I'd have it as a commentary pragmatic marker signalling the unexpectedness of the thing he happened to see (as you imply). –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 24 '14 at 20:26
@EdwinAshworth 'He opened the door of the stable only to find that the horse was gone'. I don't see how that can possibly mean 'in order to find the horse was gone'. –  WS2 Aug 24 '14 at 20:41
With 'only', the 'in order to' meaning is of course precluded. As it is when the verb doesn't make sense with a purpose clause (*'in order to find that'). But the non-purpose sense of 'V1-ed [+ adverb etc] to V2' is not very common in conversation. –  Edwin Ashworth Aug 24 '14 at 20:52
@EdwinAshworth But your previous but one comment, unless I read you incorrectly, suggested that 'only to find that' nowadays meant 'in order to find that'. As regards your last comment I agree what you say about conversation, but we are not only talking about conversation are we. –  WS2 Aug 24 '14 at 21:04

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