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Original (extracted from the book The Scarlet Letter):

Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era.

My own rephrased sentences:

Like whatever that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era.

Like what pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era.

Could you throw a light on the difference between the bolded parts of the sentences above? Or could you give me a vivid explanation or example? Or explain the difference in meaning of the sentences?

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  • 1
    all that is not a phrase. all is being used to mean everything, so it could be rephrased LIke everything that pertains to crime.
    – Barmar
    Oct 29, 2014 at 15:05
  • Is the 'that' after 'whatever' in your first rephrasing a typo?
    – DCShannon
    May 7, 2015 at 2:33

5 Answers 5

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Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era.

This sentence says a couple things. It says that everything that pertains to crime seems to have never known a youthful era. It also says that 'it' (a wooden jail, apparently?) is a member of this class of things, and that therefore 'it' also seemed to have never known a youthful era.

Logically:

Let C be the set of things that pertain to crime.
Let Y be the set of things that seem to have never known a youthful era

For any x,
x ∈ C => c ∈ Y

Let p be 'it'
p ∈ C

Therefore, p ∈ Y

Your first phrasing has an extraneous 'that'. Ignoring the extra 'that', your sentence is logically equivalent. However, 'whatever' is less formal and sounds less precise than 'all that'. It has the same meaning, but it doesn't sound as good.

I think your second phrasing fails to capture the idea that everything that pertains to crime has this property. It also sounds strange: "what pertains to crime" is the phrasing you would use to ask what things are in this set, not the phrasing you would use to indicate that you're talking about all the things in the set.

Here are some alternative phrasings that come closer to the original sentence:

Like everything (that pertains)/pertaining to crime...

Like all things (that pertain)/pertaining to crime...

Like anything (that pertains)/pertaining to crime...

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Simply, it can be seen as a shorthand for "Like all things that pertain to crime...", and in that sense it's just an idiomatic usage.

But 'things' is a very "tangible" word, while omitting it gives a broader sense of 'all', perhaps including its aura or mystique or other less tangible aspects.

I believe it's an intentional omission.

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The "it" referred to in the sentence "Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era" is a wooden jail, which obviously pertains to crime. It seems likely, therefore, that Hawthorne intends "all" to stand for "all else"—that is, "everything else."

This situation is functionally equivalent to a situation where a person stands up at city council meeting and says

Like everyone attending this meeting, I'm concerned about [topic X].

The person speaking doesn't intend to exclude himself or herself from "everyone attending this meeting," since, obviously, the speaker is attending it, too. But in both written and spoken English, many people omit the "else" and leave it to their readers or hearers to infer the word's unspoken presence. This can lead to confusion on the part of hearers or readers who interpret the words of the writer or speaker literally.

Anyway, it seems clear to me that Hawthorne means this:

Like all else [that is, "Like everything else"] that pertains to crime, the jail seemed never to have known a youthful era.

Your first alternative sentence,

Like whatever that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era.

sounds vaguer and flabbier to me than "Like all [else]..." or "Like everything [else]...," as though the writer or speaker weren't sure what things might pertain to crime but decided to include all of them anyway. I would interpret it as meaning "Like the things that pertain to crime..." rather than "Like everything that pertains to crime..."

It also has a syntactical problem: The that following "whatever" should not be included if the rest of the sentence is to run as written. Either the sentence should begin "Like whatever [else] pertains to crime..." or whatever should be replaced by a word or phrase that provides a firm anchor for the following that phrase—for example, "Like any other human work that pertains to crime..." Although parenthetical constructions of the form "whatever that [statement] means" are common in English, declarative constructions of the type "whatever that pertains to X" do not normally occur.

Your second alternative sentence,

Like what pertains to crime, it seemed never to have known a youthful era.

seems somewhat more awkwardly worded than your first alternative. I'm not sure why that should be the case, but idiomatically phrases of the type "Like what pertains to X" sound off-kilter and strangely unsophisticated. I wouldn't use that wording by choice.

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  • What about 'everyone' seems to exclude the speaker to you? If I'm one of the people attending the meeting, then I'm part of "everyone attending the meeting", and statement that follows is true of them. There's nothing wrong with that phrasing.
    – DCShannon
    May 7, 2015 at 2:32
  • @DCShannon: The problem isn't with "everyone"; it's with "like." If I say "I am like a human being," it sounds weird—because I'm not just "like" a human being, I am one. And if I replace "a human being" in that sentence with "every human being," the problem persists: I am still implicitly presenting myself as resembling human beings rather than counting myself as one. That's why I would do well to include the word other in sentences of the type "I am like every other human being." By doing so, I reserve a spot for myself in the same category (human being). If not, not. [1 of 3]
    – Sven Yargs
    May 7, 2015 at 5:24
  • Now let’s return to my earlier example of people at a meeting. If I say “Like everyone attending this meeting, I xxxxx,” a hearer will automatically (and unconsciously) correct my wording to the intended “Like everyone else attending this meeting, I xxxxx.” Why? Because I’m obviously someone and I’m obviously attending the meeting, so I must have meant to include myself among the people attending the meeting, and not merely to say that I resemble such people. [2 of 3]
    – Sven Yargs
    May 7, 2015 at 5:25
  • But suppose that my statement instead began, “Like every drunk person attending this meeting, I xxxxx.” In this case, am I claiming to be drunk (that is, am I claiming a place among the class of people I’ve designated as “every drunk person attending this meeting”)? Or am I saying that, although not drunk myself, I xxxxx just as all of the drunk people attending the meeting do? One simple way to resolve this ambiguity is to include other if I mean to identify myself as a drunk attending the meeting, and to leave it out if not. [3 of 3]
    – Sven Yargs
    May 7, 2015 at 5:25
  • @Sven Yarga: Please address, in your answer, the extraneous "that" in OP's first rephrasing. You seem to have ignored it. May 7, 2015 at 8:19
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Whatever:relative pronoun meaning ANYTHING THAT

What: relative pronoun meaning THAT WHICh

All that:(noun) meaning that, and everything similar.

In the light of the foregoings,it appears that all the sentences are correct with the exception that (THAT) in the sentence__Like whatever that pertains to crime......___is redundant.

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I think it simply means .....
Just like everything that relates to crime is anti-life (destructive). The prison door also seemed to never have seen an era full of life (here ageing).

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