I saw this structure that I've never met before:

"Some people suppose to lessen the possibiity ..." etc.

I can't find any relevant information. Is this normal practice, or simply a mistake or an eccentricity on the part of the writer?

Thank you, Katerina

  • The text is about Homeric poetry and the alphabet. The writer thinks it highly unlikely that "the invention of the alphabet and the postulated writing down of the Homeric poems could have been near contemporaneous". And he goes on to say that "Paradoxically, some suppose to lessen this extreme unlikelihood by positing that the adapter was motivated by a desire to preserve in writing extraordinary versions of the the Homeric poems that he had heard performed" etc. I do get the meaning (I think) but I've never seen "suppose" in such a structure.
    – katerina
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 20:52
  • 1
    I'm guessing "suppose to" would be a mistake for "supposed to" which is valid English, e.g. "He was supposed to look it up in a dictionary."
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 4, 2021 at 23:06
  • 1
    It would not be idiomatic, but I can certainly understand some suppose to lessen this extreme by... to mean some suppose that they lessen this extreme by...* Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 2:52
  • "Stuart F I'd phrase this: 'Suppose' only takes a to-infinitive in the passive. 'Be supposed to ...' = 'be expected to ...'. But 'expect' does not have the passive-only constraint. Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 12:01

2 Answers 2


What you have here is not what it first appears to be. There is an argument that "some people" criticise. These people recognise that it is unlikely that the Greek alphabet and the homeric epics took place at around the same time. [This, as you know, has to do with whether they were 'composed' and recorded in writing as single works by one author].


The use of the word 'suppose' in the context you have given, is suspect. I too have engaged in textual criticism of classical texts but as un undergraduate and later. The word 'suppose' is suspect. The argument is obvious:-

The proponents of this thesis try to <or suppose that they can> lessen this extreme unlikelihood by positing that the adapter was motivated by a desire to preserve in writing extraordinary versions of the the Homeric poems that he had heard performed.

The Cambridge English Dictionary online [https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/suppose] and its examples shows no example of the usage that puzzles you (suppose followed by to and the base verb lessen). I have not heard of one.

I can see no sensible explanation of how this mistake crept into the text. But the writer is saying that such an argument is what scholars call special pleading.

I am sure you also know that the argument does not give sufficient credit to the argument. The proper idea is of an oral tradition, which passed from generation to generation, which involved a complex mixture of improvisation, made easier by an armoury of stock names and phases: the sun invariably rose in exactly the same words ('early born rosy fingered dawn"), for example.

Greek writing, possibly picked up from Phoenicians, did not suddenly appear among Greeks of Asia Minor, and those who argue for a single author do notneed to make that claim. All we need is a literate literary genius to have heard those stories recited and composed version (or, like the brothers Grimm, compiled his (presumably not her) version.

Sadly, however, in relation to 'Suppose', in the words of the Roman poet, Horace, Homer nodded off.

  • Thanks a lot. This is exactly what I took the sentence to mean, but I was kind of taken aback by the syntax, and I wanted to know, first, if there was a gap in my knoweldge of English, and then if this gap misled me somehow into thinking I understand when in fact I didn't.
    – katerina
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 10:12
  • Good also to read your thoughts on Homer. Thank God I don't have to find the answer to this perennial problem - just to translate what other people think :) As for Homer nodding off, it is a good reminder against automated accusations of sloppiness. Thanks again.
    – katerina
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 10:19
  • @katerina I expect you have read Martin West's book 'The Making of Homer' (2010). I was lucky enough to attend his seminars on Homer in the 1960s, though at this point the main topics revolved around textual criticism. It is very difficult to think of the corpus as anything but the work of a single individual, working on an oral tradition of performed works. But that conclusion will always be open to the criticism that the arguments are essentially subjective literary ones. On the other hand, arguments based on dates for literacy are uncertain. [Your English, by the way, is excellent.]
    – Tuffy
    Commented Oct 5, 2021 at 12:08
  • Thanks a lot :) I'm afraid I haven't read West's book, but I am aware of the Homeric Question, having studied Classics myself. I do agree that the works are far too complex and consistent at the same time to be anything but the work of a single poet, which is not to deny the oral origins or apparatus. The Iliad is the first ever tragedy for me, but even the Odyssey may be said to have elements of the tragedy, though not of the aeschylean or sophoclean type. Plus, I tend to trust ancient sources more than some scholars seem to do. As for West himself: I wish I'd been a fly on his wall!
    – katerina
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 5:59
  • But I do have another question, relating to English again, but of a more general nature: do you find that people's writing is becoming more lazy over time? Or, do you sense a difference between British and American writers? I've been working as a translator for more than ten years, but I find American academic writing pretty difficult to follow sometimes, and I keep wondering, is this because I'm more familiar with British English, or are people becoming more careless with their writing? For if it is the former, I should do some background work.
    – katerina
    Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 6:11

No… We might just possibly get away with "Some people suppose 'to lessen the possibility' is to 'reduce the chance/(whatever)…" but that would assume "… suppose 'to…" didn't need to be "… suppose that 'to…"

That argument can be made without much difficulty but the fact of Asking shows that argument doesn't sit well with you.

It might be understood but basically nothing close to "Some people suppose to…" will be correct in ordinary English.

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