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The dictionary provides two meanings for the word "though" when used as a conjunction:

  1. to introduce a sentence that makes what you just said surprising, as in

"He is a Marxist, though he has read the Gulag Archipelago."

  1. to introduce a sentence that makes what you just said less true, as in

"Marxism is a laudable belief system, though the Gulag Archipelago is a devastating critique."

What is the essential difference between the two? Is there some characteristic that would allow one to identify one or the other? If so, what would that be called? Something like a "negating conjunction" vs a "modifying conjunction" or something like that?

I'm trying to argue that the use of the word "though" in a particular instance communicates the writer's less-than-complete faith in the veracity of what he is writing (for a lawsuit).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 16, 2018 at 16:53
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    Is it not possible for you to provide the actual text you are trying to parse? It's always better to ask the actual question you are interested in. It may turn out that the key to parsing it isn't in some special properties of the word though, but rather in some other part of the relevant sentences. If there are privacy/confidentiality issues, try to minimally modify the text so that these issues do not arise. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 1:46
  • Yes, it is a confidentiality issue. Here is a substitute sentence: One resident compared the governor's handling of the disaster to the widely-criticized federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Though Governor Smith is no George W. Bush, the swarm of lobbyists involved in the disaster response meant acres of unused relief supplies sitting in fields and overpaid clean-up crews spending weeks idling in expensive hotel rooms hundreds of miles from where they were needed.
    – CWill
    Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 6:43
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    Given this text, the though clause is not about contrast, but rather about 'weakening the force' or 'restricting or modifying' the main clause. The topic is, basically, how bad Gov. Smith was in handling the disaster. Answer: OK, maybe not as bad as Bush, but still pretty bad. There is no contrasting of Gov. Smith and Bush. The main clause (the swarm of lobbyists...) says/implies, roughly, 'Gov. Smith was pretty bad'; the though clause concedes that Bush was worse. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 15:24
  • An interesting thing here is that if you just look at the compound sentence in isolation (in other words, if you ignore the introductory sentence One resident compared...), the order of clauses in the compound sentence seems to have a subtle influence on the meaning. Compare [1a] Though A is not as bad as B, A is bad with [1b] C is bad, though C is not as bad as D. To my ear, A ends up sounding as worse than C. Commented Sep 18, 2018 at 15:24

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It could certainly be argued that in one reading, the dependent clause also 'makes what was just said surprising' in 'Marxism is a laudable belief system, though the Gulag Archipelago is a devastating critique.' But essentially, yes, 'though' is used to introduce a mitigating proviso or a surprising contrast.

  • 1b He is a Marxist, though admittedly he has read the Gulag Archipelago.

forces the 'speaker concession' [A] downtoning of assessment which is virtually forced in (2). 'Though' here means 'though it must be conceded [that].' It is a concessive, a modal hedging of speaker certainty.

  • 1b He is a Marxist, though surprisingly he has read the Gulag Archipelago.

virtually forces the 'surprising contrastive' [B] reading. 'Though' here comes close to meaning 'which seems rather strange when you consider that'. There is no doubt in the speaker's mind of their assessment, but listener doubt is pre-empted.

There is at least one further possible reading:

  • 1c Though he has read the 'Gulag Archipelago', he has remained a Marxist.

The re-ordering to maintain initial main clause would more typically be used with an 'even':

  • 1c' He has remained a Marxist, [even] though he has read the 'Gulag Archipelago'.

Now, '[even] though' means 'in spite of the fact that'. The speaker is making a comment on the remarkable inflexibility of the person discussed.

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