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I’m having a difficulty understanding “could they just have that for them unreachable pleasure” in the following sentence. If them means their, my questions will be solved. I’ll take it like this: if they could just have a piano for their unreachable pleasure. But I’m not familiar with such case. Am I misunderstanding something important? Or does the ‘them’ mean ‘their’?

Owning a piano is for some a symbol of status. That’s very sad, because there are many gifted people who would like to give anything, could they just have that for them unreachable pleasure, that is now just looking decorative and impressive in somebody’s interior. (People and Pianos by Marinus J. van Prattenburg: p9) [bold font is mine]

Just for your information, the writer is a Canadian and lives on the west coast. (though I don’t know whether it’s relevant.)

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If that's an accurate transcript, I suspect the writer may be one of the 24% of Canadians for whom English is not their mother tongue. To me, many gifted people who would like to give anything looks more like a "translation" than something a true native speaker would say. Well, to be honest, so does the whole excerpt. –  FumbleFingers Sep 30 '11 at 13:22
    
@FumbleFingers The writer was born in the Netherlands and immigrated into Canada at age thirty-two. I don’t know how old he is but he seems to be an elderly man from the picture. And … yes, I’ve seen “would give anything” in Harry Potter books but never “would like to give” unless my memory fails me. Thanks for the info. –  user7493 Oct 1 '11 at 6:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The phrase "for them unreachable" is an adjectival phrase which describes "pleasure". It is to be parsed as "...could they just have that pleasure (which is unreachable for them)".

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+1 - I think @Billy is correct. Most of the time a sub-clause like "for them unreachable" would be delimited with commas on either side, but since it's positioned in a sub-clause, adding the extra commas would make it equally awkward. <opinion>That whole sentence would benefit from a rewrite.</opinion> –  oosterwal Sep 30 '11 at 17:14
    
@oosterwal Though I’m not an English speaker, I think your opinion is true. –  user7493 Oct 1 '11 at 6:48

The actual phrase would be "have that unreachable pleasure." Because the pleasure of owning a piano is not unreachable for everyone, however, the author wants to clarify that it's unreachable for them.

You would generally see such a phrase offset by commas or parentheses to avoid just such confusion: "...to have that, for them, unreachable pleasure..."

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I didn’t understand one important thing. Your words, ‘Not unreachable for everyone’, was a key to my aha moment. Thanks a million! –  user7493 Oct 1 '11 at 6:49

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