I would say that the hubris of these statements was extraordinary were it not so commonplace for professors (not all but many) to regularly equate the possession of an advanced degree with virtue.

I'm not a native English speaker, so I find it very hard to understand though I understand all vocabularies of this sentence. It's in NY Times.

Can anyone explain this structure to me?

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  • 1
    Change “were it not” to “if it wasn’t” and see if it becomes clearer to you. – Jim Jul 17 '16 at 16:43
  • Beggars would ride, were it not the case that wishes and horses are completely different things*. – FumbleFingers Jul 17 '16 at 16:48
  • when I change "were it not" to " if it wasn't" It becomes type 2 conditional ? – anhvu1210 Jul 17 '16 at 17:03
  • It wouldn't be "if it wasn't." It'd be "if it weren't." "Wasn't" is preterit. "Weren't" is subjunctive. The subjunctive is what is being used, which is what "weren't" means in this case, thus they used "were it not" instead of "was it not." – Benjamin Harman Jul 18 '16 at 1:04
  • @BenjaminHarman - of course. I wasn’t suggesting my change was grammatical. I was suggesting it might help in understanding the sentence. – Jim Jul 18 '16 at 2:00

They're basically saying that the author would find their arrogance/hubris quite startling, but they'd come to expect this of most professors, as most professors seem to think that having a prestigious degree makes them better and more virtuous.

Hopefully this helps out! It's quite hard explaining that sentence without sounding just as complicated. Ah, NY Times.


Here is the sentence simple english:

I would say that the statements were very exaggerated, if so many professors did not think an advanced degree is the same as talent or skill.

Vocab - Here are a few words and what they mean in the sentence:

Hubris - exaggeration, arrogance
*Extraordinary * - very great, remarkable, huge
*Commonplace * - common
Equate - think of as the same, make equal
Virtue - skill, talent


The sentence is made up of and independent clause and a dependent clause.

    • The first part is a independent clause and makes sense by itself.

      I would say that the hubris of these statements was extraordinary

The author is saying that the statements he is talking about were extraordinary exaggerated.

    • The next part is a dependent clause which adds detail to the first part

      were it not so commonplace for professors to regularly equate the possession of an advanced degree with virtue.

He states that professors commonly and frequently think that a person with an advanced degree is better than someone without that degree.

  • 2
    Regarding your closing sentence: not merely talented - morally superior. – Joffan Jul 17 '16 at 17:12
  • @Joffan That's true. I will edit. – 54 69 6D Jul 17 '16 at 17:14
  • 1
    I don't think I agree with your rephrasing of the independent phrase, mainly because I don't believe hubris means exaggeration. Arrogance is far more correct. Also, extraordinary here emphasizes that something is unusual, not only "very". Also helpful, in paraphrasing, to use positives. Thus, "I would say that the statements were unusually/exceptionally arrogant, except that so many professors think an advanced degree and a person's 'goodness'/worth are the same thing. – Unrelated Jul 18 '16 at 18:30
  • @Unrelated My goal was to simplify the sentence and keep the main idea understandable. Feel free to edit, if you think you can better preserve the words' meanings. – 54 69 6D Jul 18 '16 at 18:37
  • I'll let you write it as you deem fit. My only concern is that while your sentence is much simplified and easier to read, I am not sure it preserves meaning. – Unrelated Jul 18 '16 at 18:56

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