Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I find it often after a number. What does it mean and what is that? It’d be nice if you could help me.

(from Google search)

Some books that are more than 100 years old still won't sell for more than a dollar, if that.

(Harry Potter 2 [US Version]: p.123)

Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower, was staring morosely out of a window, muttering under his breath, “… don’t fulfill their requirements … half an inch, if that …”

share|improve this question
add comment

3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

"If that" is a shortened form of "If [it even achieves] that", or some related phrase, like "If [it actually is] that [much]", "If [it actually sells for] that", etc.

It also implies "...but probably not", since "if that" is a strong conditional suggesting skepticism that the aforementioned limit might actually be reached.

So it basically means what the two fellows up there suggested: at the very most (but quite probably not), at the very best (but probably not), at the most extreme (but probably not), etc.

Because of the implied skepticism, the phrase usually indicates that something will bring in, achieve, or result in returns far less than the interlocutor's expectations. An example conversation might be:

"I was hoping to sell this car for US$5,000."

"Oh, no, you'll never sell it for that much. The most you might get for it would be 2,500 -- if that."

share|improve this answer
    
Your word suggesting skepticism gave me a good Japanese expression for that. Great. Thanks! –  user7493 Sep 9 '11 at 6:52
add comment

It means that the estimate given is the absolute maximum that it could possibly be; in fact, there is the possibility that the estimate given is too high. The phrase emphasizes that the estimate is overreaching the most likely amount by some significant factor.

In your examples,

Some books that are more than 100 years old still won't sell for more than a dollar, if that.

Those books will sell for less than $1.00, and, in fact, some of them might not be worth even that much.

Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost of Gryffindor Tower, was staring morosely out of a window, muttering under his breath, “… don’t fulfill their requirements … half an inch, if that …”

(I believe the context is in regards to how much his head is still attached to his body.)

His head is attached to his body by a very small amount, no more than half an inch. It's possible, perhaps probable, that the attachment region is significantly less than half an inch.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Generally, if that means at best / at most.

Some books that are more than 100 years old sell for a dollar, at best.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.