how awful it was not being able to help him

LQZ

Senior Member
Mandarin
“I tried pulling him up, and you cannot imagine how awful it was not being able to help him,” she told ABC News. ---taken from the NYT

Dear all,

I would say "you can't imagine how beautiful she is" or "you can't imagine how awful not being able to help him". :( So the bold part strikes me as wrong. Could you please explain it to me? Thanks.


LQZ
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    "How beautiful" and "she" are linked by "is" in the example you are OK with. "not being able to help him" is a noun phrase. "How awful" is another (adjectival?) phrase and they need to be linked by a verb as subject and complement.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Let's start with your "beautiful" sentence and change it bit by bit, LQZ:

    You can't imagine how beautiful she is.
    You can't imagine how beautiful she was.
    You can't imagine how awful she was.
    You can't imagine how awful not being able to help him was.
    You can't imagine how awful it was not being able to help him.

    Essentially, what I've done is
    (1) change the subject (she > not being able to help him)
    (2) created a cleft construction using a dummy it: compare
    Not being able to help him was awful.
    and
    It was awful not being able to help him.
     
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