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"If this is not love then I don't know what is."

How is this sentence grammatically incorrect?

Thank you

closed as unclear what you're asking by FumbleFingers, Mitch, oerkelens, Drew, Hot Licks Aug 16 '16 at 23:06

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    What makes you think it is grammatically incorrect? – FumbleFingers Aug 16 '16 at 12:28
  • Anyone insisting on 'If this be not love ...' here should be ignored. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 16 '16 at 19:42
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One assumes from Edwin Ashworth's comment that the grammatical criticism of this is that the subjunctive 'be love' should be used rather than the indicative 'is love'. Although more elegant or poetic (in some people's eyes — including mine) he is correct in rejecting this argument as the subjunctive is rarely used in contemporary English.

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The sentence is correct. It's from "If this is not love then I don't know what is love" by deletion of the trailing "love"

The deletion rule in general deletes the second of two like verb phrases, and for the purposes of this rule, the complement of "be", here "love", counts as a verb phrase, even though there is no verb. Compare "If Henrietta didn't leave the door open, then I don't know who did (leave the door open).

What follows "then" is an indirect question. The corresponding direct question would be "If this is not love, then what is (love)?" One way of forming an indirect question is to declare that you don't know the answer to the question, and thereby invite someone to supply the answer that you would like to have.

"know" can take an embedded question as its complement, as it does here, but embedded questions do not undergo the rule of subject auxiliary inversion. So that is why in the direct question, the auxiliary "is" is moved to before the logical subject "love" -- "What is love?" -- but in the embedded question of the example there is no inversion -- "what love is". The "what", of course, is a predicate noun that has been moved forward to the beginning of the question clause.

One could use a counterfactual form instead of the indicative "is" here:

  • "If this is not love then I don't know what would be."

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