Without which, we would be able to act at all.

I’m hearing this in my own head as, “Without which, we would not be able to act at all.”

So I'm wondering, is the former just a cleaner and less hectoring version of the second, with both meaning the same thing?

closed as off-topic by Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, tchrist, StoneyB, Hellion, phenry Jun 25 '14 at 16:50

  • This question does not appear to be about English language and usage within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    No, it's not "a cleaner and less hectoring version". It's gibberish, not valid English in the first place. You probably need to read up on negative polarity items – FumbleFingers Jun 25 '14 at 14:58
  • 5
    Looks like somebody just a word out. – tchrist Jun 25 '14 at 14:59
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it appears to be about a mistake. If there is good reason to believe that the sentence is correct, please edit the question to support that assertion. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jun 25 '14 at 15:09
  • 1
    Clearly a toyp. – John Lawler Jun 25 '14 at 15:26
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    @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇: The passage seems to be drawn from this review, misquoting this passage, which reads unable to act at all. So I concur in closing, but congratulate OP on a sharp eye. – StoneyB Jun 25 '14 at 16:01

The reason you're hearing the written sentence in your mind's ear with a not in it is that
that way, the sentence is grammatical.

At all is a Negative Polarity Item, which means that it can't appear grammatically at all,
unless it's inside the scope of a negative trigger; and by far the simplest and most common
negative trigger (linguists would say the "default" or "unmarked" trigger) in English is not.

Without, which is a negative trigger, appears at the beginning of the sentence and doesn't command (and therefore can't trigger) at all, which is in a subordinate clause.

Thus, your brain obligingly supplied not for your mind's ear, because your brain knows English syntax, whether you do or not.

  • Footnote: By the way, that funny feeling you get when you read Without which, we would be able to act at all is precisely the feeling of making a negative grammaticality judgement and awarding a star. In case you were wondering what I mean by "grammatical", this is IT. – John Lawler Jun 25 '14 at 15:35
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    The footnote is even better than the body! - but OP may not understand that awarding a star means marking with an asterisk to signal ungrammaticality. – StoneyB Jun 25 '14 at 15:56
  • I would've done it in the footnote, but the typography of putting a star at the front of an italicized sentence in comments is a little flaky; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and if it doesn't, I hafta fix it in 5 minutes or start over. It's not so bad in answers proper, just comments. Dunno why. – John Lawler Jun 25 '14 at 16:15
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    @JohnLawler I sometimes skirt the issue by using U+2217 ASTERISK OPERATOR, the ∗ character. – tchrist Jun 25 '14 at 16:40

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