focused, if not entirely at ease

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SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
His battle rage had burned itself out and left him focused, if not entirely at ease.
(C. Paolini; Inheritance)

The author seems to liken 'focused' to 'at ease' as if being at ease is one step further from being 'focused', on which I can't agree. Is this so or am I missing something?

Thanks.
 
  • TacoNight

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    Both 'focused' and 'at ease' contrast with the battle-rage previously felt. The author isn't saying that those two states are similar, or even different degrees of the same idea. The two states 'focused' and 'at ease' are independent, a person can be one without the other.

    I think you have the ideas of the words, but I will list some examples.
    'at ease' means relaxed or calm.
    If you are studying in your quiet room with no stress, you are focused and at ease.
    If you are studying the night before a really hard test and you are afraid of failing, you are focused but not at ease.
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you, TacoNight.

    It seems to me that to match with your explanation the sentence in question should be written (for example) as this: "[...] left him focused and almost entirely at ease."

    That standard is quite difficult, if not impossible
    Many, if not most
    These examples give me the feeling that 'if not' suggests that difficult and many are only slightly different from impossible and most respectively, as if one writes one word and then, on second thought, corrects oneself a little by putting in another word (after 'if not') that has more or less of a particular quality of the first one.
    Am I anywhere near the 'truth'? :)
     
    Yes, in a sense one is saying "there is almost a word that I want to choose to give you the idea, it is very close but not quite that, so to give you the flavor of the reality of the situation, I will give you both, but back away from the extreme."
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    "there is almost a word that I want to choose to give you the idea, it is very close but not quite that, so to give you the flavor of the reality of the situation, I will give you both, but back away from the extreme."
    But how do 'focused' and 'at ease' marry up with this explanation then?

    Thanks.
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    -
    Swedish
    Maybe the person usually becomes focused and/or at ease after that his battle rage has burned out, but not this time?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Maybe the person usually becomes focused and/or at ease after that his battle rage has burned out, but not this time?
    I agree that it is something like this. A person in a battle rage would be both excited/agitated (not at ease) and unfocused (unable to think clearly, so mad he can't see straight ;)) so one might expect that when the battle rage is over that he would not be either one of those states, but that is not the case.
     

    TacoNight

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    It seems to me that to match with your explanation the sentence in question should be written (for example) as this: "[...] left him focused and almost entirely at ease."
    In fact, I disagree with this interpretation of the sentence.


    These examples give me the feeling that 'if not' suggests that difficult and many are only slightly different from impossible and most respectively, as if one writes one word and then, on second thought, corrects oneself a little by putting in another word (after 'if not') that has more or less of a particular quality of the first one.
    Am I anywhere near the 'truth'? :)
    Your analysis for these examples is spot on. It's saying something is close to an extreme, but not quite that extreme. I think the original usage is a different sense.

    I found a review of a hotel online given as:
    Friendly, if not exactly helpful

    These two qualities are being contrasted here, they are not extremes of the same quality.
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    I found a review of a hotel online given as:
    Friendly, if not exactly helpful

    These two qualities are being contrasted here, they are not extremes of the same quality.
    Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, WordNet® 3.0, Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary simply disagree with whoever wrote that review (although there is a possibility that some other dictionary may disagree with this lot).

    The sentence in question, in my humble opinion, could be also written this way:

    "left him focused, if not entirely at ease", where 'if' means 'despite being'. So, he was focused, but despite this sharp concentration of his he was completely at ease. Although I'm not sure if this sort of 'mending' can be applied to the review of a hotel.

    Is this possible that something like 'friendly, if not exactly helpful' is used despite being in discordance with what dictionaries state?

    Thanks.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi Suprun

    "If" can sometimes be used with concessive force, so that the meaning is similar to "though" or "although". I haven't checked the dictionaries you listed, but the WRF English dictionary entry for "if" includes this meaning:
    2 despite the possibility that.
    ■ despite being.
    (I see you mentioned this possible meaning of "if" in your last post.)

    It's this concessive meaning of "if" which is being used both in your original sentence and in TacoNight's 'hotel review' example: thus
    focused, if not entirely at ease
    = focused, though not entirely at ease / focused, but not entirely at ease / focused, albeit not entirely at ease/

    friendly, if not exactly helpful

    = friendly, though not exactly helpful / friendly, but not exactly helpful / friendly, albeit not exactly helpful.
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Does this mean that there are two possible interpretations of
    That standard is quite difficult, if not impossible.
    1) if not - perhaps even (used to introduce a more extreme term than one first mentioned) - Oxford Dictionary of English
    That standard is quite difficult, perhaps even impossible.
    2) if - despite being -
    That standard is quite difficult, but not impossible.

    Thanks.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Yes, there are two possible interpretations, in principle. In practice, the context will normally indicate which is the appropriate meaning:).
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Yes, there are two possible interpretations, in principle. In practice, the context will normally indicate which is the appropriate meaning:).
    I, for some reason, had always thought 'if not' almost always should read only as 1) and when 'if' is used as 'despite being' we should avoid using 'not' with it, in which case 2) could be conveyed in this way: 'difficult if possible'. Thus - ambiguity is annihilated :)
     
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