I've gotten into an odd sort of argument on Reddit which is boiling down to basic reading comprehension.

It stems from "# 5" on this list

What Finn lacks in Force sensitivity — though he may want to take a class or two in lightsaber dueling, just to be safe — he makes up for in courage and dedication.

The statement "What Finn lacks in force sensitivity" is causing a whole bunch of confusion. I'll just leave what this guy is saying here:

"what is the "WHAT" Finn lacks "IN" force sensitivity? I'll tell you, it's referring to " Finn doesn’t quite have a handle on how the Force works" ..That's what Finn lacks IN Force sensitivity according to the paragraph meaning he is force sensitive because it states he lacks knowing how the force works in his force sensitivity not "Finn lacks force sensitivity""

So... I don't quite understand what this guy's even asking, and it's starting to hurt my head. It's making me realize that I might not understand the phrase "what x lacks in y" all that well, and now I'm wondering how it's grammatically correct at all, because as this guy says... what does the word "what" refer to, in this case?

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    You need to quote the whole sentence, in which What Finn lacks in force sensitivity is not a question but a 'free relative clause' acting as the object of the preposition for. What Finn lacks in force sensitivity [...] he makes up for in courage and dedication. He makes up for this lack in other qualities. – StoneyB Aug 21 '17 at 17:05
  • "What Finn lacks in Force sensitivity" can be roughly paraphrased as: "The areas in which Finn is deficient with respect to his being able to sense The Force" and your guy is saying "it's not a question of his sensitivity, he doesn't understand how the Force works period." – Jim Aug 21 '17 at 17:26

"What X lacks in Y" means "that element of Y that X has not got".


tl;dr the quote has terrible grammar, which partially obscures the meaning.

Let’s say that an average force user has a “sensitivity” of, say, X. Let’s say that, again “on average”, they have a “courage and dedication” score of Y.

The What Finn lacks… suggests that Finn has a “sensitivity” of, well, less than X by some amount, and that they are more “courageous and dedicated” than Y by a similar or greater proportion.

The What refers to the amount, or proportion, by which Finn is less sensitive than X.

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