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I am currently reading "Do androids dream of electric sheep?" by P.K. Dick and I have come across a grammatical structure I don't quite understand. The excerpt is the following (no spoilers, don't worry):

"Ever thought of selling your horse?" Rick asked. He wished to god he had a horse, in fact any animal. Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article. He had therefore no choice except to continue. Even were he not to care himself, there remained his wife, and Iran did care. Very much.

Although I think I can grasp the meaning (similar to "although he didn't care") I would really appreciate some information concerning the use and meaning of the sentence, as well as some pronunciation advice: should 'were' be stressed?

I would also find another example very useful.

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Even were he not to care himself does not mean "although he didn't care". It means that, whether or not he cared about this, (with a strong assumption that he did in fact care), what his wife cared about was more important. –  John Lawler Dec 27 '12 at 21:51
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@JohnLawler "what his wife cared about was more important" - that's not quite right either. It means that both parties must not care for Rick(?) to have acted differently. You are implying that the action is determined by Iran's feelings alone, whereas, the action is instead determined by a logical conjunction of both of their stances. –  Lucas Dec 28 '12 at 6:52
    
@Lucas: I don't agree. As John says, the cited usage includes a strong implication that he did in fact care. But there's an even stronger implication that whether or not he cares, the fact of his wife caring is what will determine the choice of action. It's not a "logical conjunction of both of their stances" - effectively, the only thing that counts is what Iran (the wife) thinks. –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 17:21
    
I don't know the stories or the motivations; I've never read the book (though I've read lots of earlier Dick) and I'm dealing with the sentence in the paragraph as given above. Period. Anyone who knows more its context can wring more out of the sentence, but that's not due to its grammar or semantics -- and that's true of just about any sentence, anyway. –  John Lawler Dec 28 '12 at 17:36
    
@FumbleFingers I think you actually agree with me but don't understand what I meant by "logical conjunction". Also, the fact of his wife's feelings is not the subject of this statement, but a counter-factual about the action he might of taken if he had felt differently, and as implied by "no choice but", had his wife felt differently. Effectively, it is description of how the decision was made, and the counter-factual possibilities that were relevant (his and her feelings). –  Lucas Dec 29 '12 at 8:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This is an older phrasing, unusual in the past few decades, especially in American English.

"Although he didn't care" is a good guess, but not quite right. Although, even though, and declarative+"still" mean that something did happen and it did not have the expected result. It would mean he had to do the opposite of what he wanted.

"Even were he not to care himself" means "Even if he didn't care himself." Even if, "even"+subjunctive, and subjunctive+"still" describe an imaginary situation (that did not happen) and would not have had the expected result. It can also describe an unlikely future situation that will not have the expected result. It means that he does care, but in the imaginary situation of not caring, he would have to do the opposite of what he wanted.

Here is an example with some alternate phrasings:

  • Even had they offered her more money, she would've left the company.
  • Had they offered her more money, she still would've left the company.
  • Even if they offer her more money, she will still leave the company.

Here is a link to an excellent series of examples and explanations on using the subjunctive in similar ways: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv342.shtml

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Welcome to ELU. I look forward to more such detailed and helpful answers. –  StoneyB Dec 28 '12 at 3:34

Even were he not to care himself. . . is an alternative way of saying Even if he were not to care himself . . . The stress in the clause would naturally fall on not.

Another example is Were he to work harder, he might make a success of his business instead of If he were to work harder, he might make a success of his business. It is a rather literary form, and is not normally found in conversation.

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Even were he not to care himself and it's rephrased version Even if he were not to care himself are both examples of using the subjunctive voice in English.

This kind of subjunctive is most commonly used in if clauses, and it indicates that the scenario is contrary-to-fact.

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