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I came across a sentence in a published book (A Light Kindled: The Story of Priscilla Mullins):

"His voice echoed the urgency of the situation, yet it was strengthened with the calm resolve that only a man of undaunting faith and courage could display at such a moment."

Is this a correct usage of undaunting to modify faith and courage, or should the sentence read:

"His voice echoed the urgency of the situation, yet it was strengthened with the calm resolve that only a man of undaunted faith and courage could display at such a moment."

"Daunt" means "to overcome with fear; intimidate" or "to lessen the courage of; dishearten", which seems to imply that someone other than the party being daunted is doing the daunting. Therefore, the way the sentence is now structured makes it sound like "his" faith and courage is undaunting to someone outside of himself, whereas if the sentence read "undaunted faith and courage," it might better convey the intended meaning--that "his" faith and courage was undaunted by the circumstances.

I know my explanation is a bit jumbled, but I hope you get my drift. The way the author is using undaunting to mean unmoving or something of the sort. But I don't think this is the correct use of the reverse of daunting.

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  • Ngrams would seem to support you. Apr 28, 2020 at 13:50
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    It's an archaic usage. undaunting = unyielding to threats, dauntless (not 'undaunted'). OED will doubtless carry the sense. Apr 28, 2020 at 14:58
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    The sequence with undaunting courage certainly does occur, as that Google Books link shows. But I don't like it one bit and as this NGram it's practically non-existent compared to with undaunted courage. Apr 28, 2020 at 15:44
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    @EdwinAshworth: I see no evidence that it's an "archaic" usage. Everything I see suggests to me it's a "modern" error - probably partly facilitated by the fact that even the "correct" verb form has become significantly less common, so there's more chance for today's speakers to get it wrong simply because they're rarely exposed to the right version. Apr 28, 2020 at 15:56
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    The mouse faced the cat with undaunting courage. The cat enjoyed a nice snack. So you see, it’s possible to use this construction in the right context. Meow.
    – user205876
    May 1, 2020 at 1:38

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Your insight into this possible choice is very apparently correct; retaining "undaunted" as the proper form is the solution. An ngram shows that both modifiers are used, "undaunting" being comparatively rare. Yet, an examination of the books shows that this latter is used with the same meaning as "undaunted", whereas the idea you put forward is what seems unavoidable, "undaunting" being a participial adjective only and its sense being therefore derived from "to daunt" (to subdue, to quell). This modification amounts not to faith and courage being indomitable as one would expect, but to their would be action as being ineffective in subduing or checking sth/sb. I admit that I do not understand these numerous occurrences of "undaunting" where I expect "undaunted" in the examples provided by Google books.

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  • I posted my own NGram (which didn't find any written instances of the "non-standard" tense choice) before seeing your link. But I find it interesting that the few instances of the undaunting version that do occur are recent, rather than being some kind of hangover from Victorian syntax. Given there's been a significant fall in the prevalence of undaunted itself over the past century, I think we can safely attribute all those non-standard usages to "copying errors" from people who've rarely if ever heard the "correct" version. Apr 28, 2020 at 15:52

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