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As for Quinn, there is little that need detain us. Who he was, where he came from, and what he did are of no great importance.

I was just reading Paul Auster's New York Trilogy and came across the sentence above. I can grasp neither the structure of this sentence nor the meaning quite well, so I have two questions:

  1. Is this a valid structure?
  2. Whether my following understanding of the sentence is correct: We can easily describe Queen and get on with the story.

Any help and references would be highly appreciated.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, user66974 Aug 30 '16 at 14:46

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Yes, it's valid, and it means "there is little that needs to detain us", in other words, "There isn't much that needs to detain us", or, more simply, "We don't need to wait for anything".. I'll leave it for someone with more formal knowledge to leave a proper answer. – Max Williams Aug 30 '16 at 8:29
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    Possible duplicate of Is "one needs only" or "one need only" correct?. But see John Lawler's answer at Are there other verbs that work like dare and need? for the answer. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 30 '16 at 10:00
  • Yes, you have it essentially right. The complement clause contains "need" as a modal auxiliary verb (expressing necessity) with a bare infinitival clause as complement. A decent paraphrase might be 'There is little necessity to consider Quinn any further'. – BillJ Aug 30 '16 at 11:21
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It means there is nothing there that should keep author and reader from moving on with the story. Since as the following sentence explains, Who he was, where he came from, and what he did are of no great importance.

Having a look at need detain, it's pretty straight forward.

As for Quinn, there is little that need detain us. It can be rephrased as, there are not many reasons that make it necessary to be detained at that place in the story.

The dictionary shows us

detain: Keep (someone) from proceeding by holding them back or making claims on their attention -ODO

need: [AS MODAL, WITH NEGATIVE OR IN QUESTIONS] Expressing necessity or obligation: -ODO

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