"Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon."

In this sentence, I didn't grasp the meaning of the part that says "he every instant fancies a thousand others". Could you explain it by dividing sentence into subject predicate and object?

This is taken from Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America. Originally published in 1835. Translated by Henry Reeve in 1841. The author was a French observer of the United States in the nineteenth century.


  • [SUBJ He ][PRED [ (every instant) [V: fancies] [DO: (a thousand) others] ]; "every instant" is a temporal nounphrase modifying the verb or the entire predication (depending on your syntactic sect) and "a thousand" is a quantifying nounphrase modifying the subject. – StoneyB Nov 23 '18 at 16:39
  • You should always give context. What is the source of this quote? Can you give a link? – Mitch Nov 23 '18 at 17:00
  • He imagines at every moment=contemporary English. – Lambie Nov 23 '18 at 17:32

Simply put, 'every instant' is acting like 'always' but would normally be put later in the sentence. It is in a somewhat infrequent, non-standard word order.

To simplify the sentence step by step,

  1. He every instant fancies a thousand others

  2. He fancies a thousand others

  3. He fancies a thousand other things

  4. He fancies things

Subject = He

Verb = fancies

Object = things

'Every instant' is really a prepositional phrase with the preposition dropped 'in every instant and normally should come after the verb. It has the meaning of 'always' and that may be why the translator chose the position that always would take.


"Others" functions as a pronoun representing "good things (the antecedent)." In this sentence "fancies" is a verb meaning "to desire,"(OAD). So: At every instant (all the time) he (de Toqueville) desires a thousand other "good things" besides the good things he already possesses. He fears that if he doesn't attain the good things soon, he will die before he experiences them.


Others have given a response to the question of splitting the phrase in question.

The English words were not those of the author (only the translator) so to get a better sense of the contextual meaning it is best to look at the wider paragraph. of this Chapter

"Causes Of The Restless Spirit Of Americans In The Midst Of Their Prosperity"

"At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men,...

"Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon."

...Death is often less dreaded than perseverance in continuous efforts to one end."  

every instant is continuously
fancies could equally be replaced with desires
others is not purely possessions it is a greater? quality of life

Here the authors words could have just as equally been translated as

he constantly desires a greater quality of life, which death ...

I.e we continuously want more than we need. This is explaining the opposite of nirvana.

"Freud analysed the notion of nirvana and concluded that the great calm that follows from ceasing to want can barely be distinguished from inertia or — not to put too fine a point on it — death." Robert Rowland Smith

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