1

We meet at a time of both of immense promise and great peril. It is entirely up to us whether we lift the world to new heights,or let it fall into a valley of disrepair. We have it in our power should we so choose to lift millions of poverty,to help citizens to realize their dreams and ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred and fear.

This part comes from the address of Donald Trump at UN general assembly. I am little confused what does the thick it refer to, does it mean a word or a sentence? From my view, I think it refers to "whether we lift the world to new heights,or let it fall into a valley of disrepair".Second, why does should be in front of we? how to understand "should we so choose"?

  • It refers to the thing "we have in our power" to do. (Note that a couple of commas are missing in that transcript.) – Hot Licks Sep 21 '17 at 0:48
  • To lift millions from poverty, not to lift millions of poverty. "should we so choose" means "if we choose to do so" – Xanne Sep 21 '17 at 0:53
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The "it" in that sentence is an "anticipatory it", because the sentence uses "it-extraposition". This is a grammatical pattern where the word "it" stands in for a long noun phrase which is moved to the end of the clause or sentence.

You could say

To lift ..., to help ... and ensure ... are in our power.

but then the main verb of the sentence is rather far from the front of the sentence, which is unusual in English. It-extraposition turns this sentence into:

It is in our power to lift ..., to help ... and ensure ....

And then there's only a minor difference between "it is in our power" and "we have it in our power".

Other examples of it-extraposition:

It's nice to see you again.

rather than

To see you again is nice.

and

'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

-- Alfred Lord Tennyson, "In Memoriam A.H.H."

rather than

To have loved and lost is better than never to have loved at all.


The phrase "should we so choose" (which should probably be surrounded by commas) is a subordinate clause. The word "should" signals what's called the "first conditional", meaning it describes a probable but uncertain future event. This can take either the form "if [subject] should [verb]" or the inverted form "should [subject] [verb]":

If you should make a mistake, you will have a chance to correct it.

Should you make a mistake, you will have a chance to correct it.

Both options might be considered a bit old-fashioned and/or formal.

3

We have it in our power, should we so choose, to lift millions out of poverty, to help citizens to realize their dreams and ensure that new generations of children are raised free from violence, hatred and fear.

The transcript is missing a couple of commas around the parenthetical phrase "should we so choose", and also missing "out". To understand the basic syntax remove that phrase, insert the missing "out", and you get "We have it in our power to lift millions out of poverty ..." This is perfectly well-formed English. (I can't say whether the missing "out" is an error on Trump's part, or a transcription error.)

  • I can understand "so we should choose......" in this order. But what does the "......, should we so choose, ......." mean? Is it mean we should and so we choose to lift ..., to help ... and ensure? – user258265 Sep 21 '17 at 1:38
  • @user258265 - "should we so [verb]" is a fairly common idiom, though relatively formal. – Hot Licks Sep 21 '17 at 1:42

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