3

I am struggling to parse no matter what. (There are a couple questions on the site about the phrase no matter what but they revolve around how to use it.)

Is matter here a verb? Is it a noun?

If it is a verb, why does it not take an auxiliary verb?

No matter appears in NOAD as its own unit:

no matter

  1. [ with clause ] regardless of: no matter what the government calls them, they are cuts.

  2. it is of no importance: “No matter, I'll go myself.”

In the briefer phrase no matter (e.g. "If you don't want to go, no matter, we will stay put") it reads easily enough as a noun: there is no problem or nothing to consider.

matter, n

• an affair or situation under consideration

• a reason for distress or a problem (NOAD)

The what brings confusion, whether it is final or introduces the rest of a clause ("No matter what" vs. "No matter what comes next"). In "I won't believe you, no matter what you say" it doesn't really make sense to make matter a noun.

Perhaps a useless exercise, we can expand it with potential synonyms:

  1. I won't believe you, no problem what you say.
  2. I won't believe you, no reason for distress what you say.
  3. I won't believe you, no substance what you say.
  4. I won't believe you, no consideration what you say.

I leave #4 unstruck because it makes the most sense but, I find, not enough. This exercise is perhaps unhelpful because maybe another synonym could be used, or a perhaps a preposition could save the day, but I hope it serves my point.

So is matter a verb?

matter, v

be of importance; have significance (NOAD)

Before trying to defend matter's role as a verb we already see it functioning quite strangely: generally English requires an auxiliary verb for negating verbs. Is this my reason for confusion?

When what introduces the rest of a clause this more or less solves the matter:

⇒ "I won't believe you; it doesn't matter what you say"

but it remains murky when there is nothing to follow to the what:

⇒ "I won't believe you; it doesn't matter what

by no means provides the same sense of disregard and, besides, there isn't really a subject.

  • I'd say it's far more sensible to class 'no matter' as a fixed unit, even though it doubtless derives from identifiable once-elements. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 12 '17 at 9:49
  • It matters not what the answer is. It does not matter what the answer is. – Drew Nov 12 '17 at 15:48
  • Linking to my question from here: english.stackexchange.com/q/498129/5087 – Kedar Mhaswade May 13 '19 at 4:21
3

"No matter" is an idiom with the form of a noun phrase that takes a subordinate interrogative clause as complement.

Subordinate interrogatives can be reduced by ellipsis to just an interrogative phrase like "what" if the rest of the clause is recoverable anaphorically. The whole NP "no matter what" then functions as an adjunct in clause structure.

The reduced interrogative "what" is a kind of conditional clause called an 'exhaustive conditional'. Things become clearer if the reduced conditional clause is expanded to an equivalent full clause as in, for example, He'll complain, no matter what you ask him to do, where we understand that he'll complain if you ask him to peel the potatoes and he'll complain if you ask him to set the table and so on: he'll complain for every possible x where you ask him to do x.

The interrogative clause, reduced or in full, thus expresses a question whose answers define an exhaustive set of conditions, hence the name 'exhaustive conditional'.

| improve this answer | |
1

Historically, "no matter" seems to be derived from the noun "matter", as in "It is a thing of little matter". The Oxford English Dictionary lists this as sense 14 of the noun and gives early examples with a dummy pronoun and verb, like "tis no matter" and "It's no matter". It's true that the similar construction "It doesn't matter (what)" uses the verb, but we can see that the negation is expressed differently in that expression.

I am not sure what the correct description is of the function of "no matter", but it doesn't seem to be at all verblike to me. Rather, it seems adverbial (which I think is consistent with BillJ's decription of it as forming an adjunct to a clause).

It seems to me to behave somewhat similarly to "despite", "regardless of", "because of". "Regardless of" furthermore has a very similar meaning.

The word "despite" in phrases like "Despite what he says,..." is derived from the noun despite, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): it says the origin was "in despite of" > "despite of" > "despite". So this might be a similar example of a word developing from a noun to have this kind of specialized usage.

Of course, you cannot use just any noun this way. The construction with "no matter" has special grammar associated with it. Perhaps this means that "matter" should no longer be classified as a noun in this context; or perhaps not (I think there are similar ambiguities with classifying the part of speech of "'bare NP' temporal adverbials"; see the linked Linguistics SE post). Not all nouns necessarily behave the same way.

The OED and some other dictionaries classify this use of "despite" in contemporary English as a preposition, but I'm not about the accuracy of this classification. "Regardless of" is classified as a preposition by Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionary; again, I'm not sure that this classification is correct, but it seems more plausible to me than calling it a verb or something like that.

I have the impression that the dividing line between "adverbs" and "prepositions" is sometimes a bit unclear, as both can be used to form adverbial adjuncts.

| improve this answer | |
0

Unfortunately the OED does not separately list the collocation. Collins Dictionary would suggest it is related to the noun form. But as a compact dictionary it offers no rationale/etymology for that.

Matter, in this sense, seems to me to be a verb e.g. It matters not what you say.

I would have said that no matter what is an established idiom meaning "It matters not what happens".

In short I believe we need to think of it, as we do with much English usage, as an idiomatic adverbial clause.

| improve this answer | |
  • Could you then respond to the question of why it doesn't take an auxiliary verb, or the structure you provide? I recognize that 'why' is always a difficult/impossible question on this site, so examples of similarly functioning verbs would also help – Unrelated Nov 12 '17 at 9:10
  • But Collins lists 'no matter ...' under the nounal and not the verbal usages of 'matter'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 12 '17 at 9:47
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes. I've seen that. Unfortunately the OED doesn't provide an entry for that collocation. To me, it seems to be a form of "it matters not what". Anyway, in view of Collins I will edit my answer. – WS2 Nov 12 '17 at 10:29
  • @Unrelated Please see my edit. I am not arguing that it is a verb, but an adverbial clause derived from a verb form, which would take an auxiliary - "It would not have mattered had it been raining, they would still have gone out". – WS2 Nov 12 '17 at 10:38
  • 1
    @WS2: I checked the OED. The path from "matter" (noun) to "no matter what..." seems to have gone through expressions like "There's no matter what" or "It's no matter what..." – herisson Nov 12 '17 at 22:34
0

No matter what + subject + verb: no matter what she does, she won´t succeed.

No matter what + noun + verb: no matter what meassures the goverment takes against hooliganism, there will still be fans who overreact.

These are other usages of no matter what.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.