The following is a quote from the New York Times. What does the last sentence "Unless it isn't" mean? How can you paraphrase it?

"On the emotional fulcrum of New York City apartment-hunting, size and setting are forever in sway. Does a park view trump a guest bedroom? Is a vast kitchen worth settling blocks from a trendy thoroughfare? Usually, a compromise is struck. Unless it isn't."

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  • More context is needed, but it's likely saying that compromise is unnecessary if you have enough money. "Unless it isn't" is a relatively standard ironic idiom. – Hot Licks Apr 19 '16 at 12:11

"isn't" = "is not" - but presumably you knew that? It means "Usually, a compromise is struck, unless they can't reach a compromise"


Literally, it can be put into a single sentence like the following: Usually a compromise is struck, unless it is not [struck].

The fact that they put it into a sentence of its own is a bit of a childish technique that mature writers sometimes put to use for dramatic effect - essentially dragging the reader's interest into rest of the article to find out what this stark counterexample to their initial statement is. It's sort of like stating a big, nuanced thesis and then completely contradicting it in a single statement.


It can be re-phrased in a simple sentence as below

As long as a compromise is NOT struck, A park view trumps a guest bedroom and a vast kitchen is worth settling blocks from a trendy thoroughfare.

  • 1
    +1 for your original answer, because I think it came closest to another possible interpretation (i.e., “Unless it isn’t.” = “Unless a vast kitchen isn’t worth settling blocks from a trendy thoroughfare.”). (However, your recent edit to add “park view trumps a guest bedroom” doesn’t jive with that interpretation, ‘cause that would require “Unless it doesn’t”, so I’m now not so sure exactly what you’re saying, but +1 anyway for noting that there is at least one other interpretation than the “obvious” one mentioned in the other answers.) – Papa Poule Apr 19 '16 at 12:53
  • The two phrases are: Usually, a compromise is struck. Unless it isn't. – Billeeb Apr 19 '16 at 14:12

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