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In a fan-translated story I read a while ago, the protagonist uncharacteristically said some sentences using what I understand to be "Early Modern English."

He said, "I am Hathaway, the one pledged to protect only thee, e'en it mean the betrayal of all others and their eternal enmity."

I didn't see anything wrong with it when I read it at the time, but looking at it now, the sentence isn't correct in the second half. Since "e'en" is the same as "even," the sentence could be re-written as:

"I am Hathaway, the one pledged to protect only you, even it mean the betrayal of all others and their eternal enmity."

It would make more sense to add an "if" after the "even" and change "mean" to "means" (which is referring to the pledge). However, those changes don't sound very nice in the EME version if I were to add them in there.

So my question is whether maybe the original sentence was somehow grammatically correct if it was written in EME? Or, keeping as much of the original structure as possible, how could I add the changes to make the original EME sentence correct?

By the way, sorry if my question somehow isn't appropriate or is in the wrong section! (Or if my tag's wrong.) Please move it if necessary.

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    Good question! "Mean" is just the subjunctive, but I don't know if there is any explanation for the omission of "if" after "even". – herisson Mar 23 '18 at 22:01
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    I suspect that e'en is the writer's mistake for EME an, which in this position meant if. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 24 '18 at 0:50
  • In some contexts, "if" can be omitted because it is implied by the use of the subjunctive mood. "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." But I have no idea whether EME works that way. – Andreas Blass Mar 24 '18 at 4:00
  • @AndreasBlass That only happens under inversion. – tchrist Mar 24 '18 at 4:10
  • @tchrist Thanks for pointing that out. So would the example in the question be OK if it were inverted to "... e'en mean it the betrayal ...", or would there still be a problem? – Andreas Blass Mar 24 '18 at 4:15
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I think it can be made grammatically correct just by adding an "if". I'm basing this off the fact that I've found some examples of "if he/she/it mean" in some EME texts:

... if he mean as he speaketh.
The Historie of Great Britain Under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans, 1623

And if it mean the united Kingdom of Great Britain, many think it must infer an owning and acknowledgement of the Treaty of Union...
The Oath of Abjuration Displayed, 1712

If it mean a just action, surely a just action is no indulgence. If it mean an unjust action...
A Narrative of Facts, Relating to a Prosecution for High Treason, 1795

I'm pretty sure this is just the subjunctive, which is still sometimes used today (despite how weird it may sound).

Judging from other examples I found, it would also be OK to say "if it means", but this would lose some of the archaic flavor ;)

  • Hi Laurel. Thanks for your response. Since I can add "if", would I also be correct in adding "s" to "mean"? So the sentence would become: "I am Hathaway, the one pledged to protect only you, e'en if it means the betrayal of all others and their eternal enmity." – Adams Trinh Mar 24 '18 at 3:34
  • @AdamsTrinh Yep, see the link I added for more examples. – Laurel Mar 24 '18 at 3:43
  • Ahh sorry for continuing on this conversation here. I read some of the examples and considered what you said in your initial response again. You're right. Adding the "if" doesn't seem all that bad, as seen in the many examples you've shown me. But changing it to "means" just, right, takes out all of the flavor (which I want to avoid the most). So just adding "if" should suffice then? :) – Adams Trinh Mar 24 '18 at 3:59

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