I am doing a CAE, Use of English, Part 1 (Multiple choice) exercise and I came across the following paragraph:

As nomadic peoples in Asia are known to have been playing the game over two thousand years ago, polo can lay claim to being the world's oldest team sport, even if/given that the modern rules were only set down in the 1850s when British cavalrymen stationed in India took up the game.

where even if is the correct answer. To me, the latter makes more sense. Why is the former the only possibility, according to the answer key?

  • 2
    'Even if', meaning 'despite the fact that' or 'even though some might disagree, using the argument that' is correct here. Apr 4, 2018 at 11:50
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    The primary assertion in OP's context is polo can lay claim to being the world's oldest team sport, - where even if is used to reference something that appears to be incompatible with the primary assertion (it's "non-supporting"), whereas given that references something that supports or forces the primary assertion to be true. So they have more or less opposite meanings. Apr 4, 2018 at 12:19

1 Answer 1


"Given" is a past participle. What does it modify? One possibility is the noun clause "that the modern rules..." In that interpretation, the structure is like an ablative absolute - "[the fact] that the modern rules etc. being given." That might work in Latin, but it's awkward English at best.

Another possibility is some unknown referent, making "given" a dangling participle. Contrast "Given that the modern rules ..., I believe that polo can lay claim..." Here, "given" modifies "I" - I have been given a fact, on the basis of which I have a belief. Consider "Given no choice, he surrendered." "Given that ABC is a right triangle, [you] prove that the square on the hypotenuse etc."

As a matter of style, at least, to avoid all of the mental gymnastics that goes with sorting out whether a participle is part of an ablative absolute or a descriptor of an agent, I would argue that "even if" is the better choice where the "givee" is not identified.

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