I was reading The Dialogues of Socrates translated into English and one particular sentence in Charmides sprung out as odd. I can't tell what it is trying to say, but I also can't figure out if it is grammatically correct or not.

Very good, I said; and did you not admit, just now, that temperance is noble?

Yes, certainly, he said.

And the temperate are also good?


And can that be good which does not make men good?

Certainly not.

I'm guessing that this is correct English but it simply fell out of usage in modern times (e.g. saying "[VERB] + not" instead of "Do + not + [VERB]" for negation). Having said all that, I'm not sure what it is.

  • 1
    And can something be said to be good if it doesn’t make men good?
    – Jim
    Aug 13 '20 at 21:06

There's an extraposition in there.

A more normal order would be

Can that which does not make men good be good?

but (especially in writing) this is less comprehensible, because of the difficulty of finding the end of the relative clause which does not make men good.

Also that which ... is somewhat literary: a more ordinary form would be something which.

Does this answer your question?

  • I understand what it means now, the reordered version makes a lot more sense to me. I would think for comprehensibility, I would put a comma in it: ... make men good, be good? I'm still about confused about the syntax. From a syntactic-analysis POV, how does this work? Let's say, for example, I am writing a story; when would it be appropriate to do this and how? Aug 13 '20 at 22:12
  • Did you read the WP article? It can be appropriate in any writing (and even sometimes in speech) when a short constituent (typically an object) would be separated from whatever governs it by a long constituent, typically a NP with an embedded clause.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 13 '20 at 23:09
  • I did read the the Wikipedia article, but I wasn't entirely sure what I was reading. I don't have much knowledge about "constituents" and such. Aug 13 '20 at 23:17
  • @thepufferfish: Informally, a constituent is a word or sequence of words in a sentence that hangs together as a unit. In the previous sentence, "a word", "sequence of words", "a word or sequence of words", and "that hangs together as a unit" are all constituents, but "sequence of", "word or sequence", and "words that hangs" are not. It is sometimes not clear-cut whether a sequence of words is a constituent or not (and it may depend on the way the sentence is analysed) but generally it's obvious.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 14 '20 at 10:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.