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"Knowledge is power. If you could know the answer to anyone's question about yourself or anything else in the world, what would it be? Why?"

This essay question was given by my teacher. As I understand, "it" means "the answer to anyone's question... " but my friend argues that "it" means "the question". Who is right? What is "it" in "what would it be?"?

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    Can you find the courage to tell your reacher this is drivel? Knowledge is power has nothing to do with anyone's question about anything? You’re right; it means the answer to anyone's question... and clearly, your teacher is running on bent track. Either way, your friend is mistaken. It does not mean the question. In English, If you could know the answer to anyone's question…, what would it be? equates it with the answer, not the question. In logic , If you could know the answer to anyone's question…, what would it be? equates it with the answer, not the question. – Robbie Goodwin Oct 10 '17 at 20:25
  • I agree with you that, in the sentence as written, "it" refers to the answer. On the other hand, I strongly suspect that the teacher intended it to refer to the question and just wrote the sentence badly. It makes much more sense to ask you write an essay about "What question would you want to know the answer to?" than about "What would the answer be to any [unspecified] question?" – Andreas Blass Nov 9 '17 at 4:58
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I agree with yourself. If the sentence is shortened it becomes even clearer as to what 'it' refers to.

If you could know the answer, what would it be ?

Punctuation also makes it clearer :

If you could know the answer, to anyone's question about yourself or anything else in the world, what would it be ?

If you could know the answer to anyone's question, about yourself or anything else in the world, what would it be ?

One cannot know the question, until it is stated.

Once it is stated, one might, indeed, know the answer.

Then, as the first sentence says, 'Knowledge is power.'

  • "I agree with yourself" sounds odd to me. You are a non-native speaker? – Xanne Oct 9 '17 at 17:37
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    @Xanne I am a Scot,of retirement age (but working full-time) resident in England since school. Using 'yourself' is (or was) a way of being courteous. Much as French uses 'vous' rather than 'tu'. Using 'yourself' is an attempt to avoid being over-familiar with someone one does not, yet, know. – Nigel J Oct 9 '17 at 17:41
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    Interesting. In the various regions of the United States in which I've lived, it hasn't been used that way. – Xanne Oct 9 '17 at 17:44
  • @Xanne Nor is it much used on this side of the pond. Only by some of us who are longer in the tooth. – Nigel J Oct 9 '17 at 18:19

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