If Only to Know ....

HSS

Senior Member
Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
Hi.
I saw the whole thing. It wasn't your fault. Even what happened to Tim wasn't your fault, but it was nice to hear you apologize anyway. If only to know you could do it in the future.
Could you rephrase "it was ... in the future" as

"it was nice to hear you apologize anyway, perphaps, only to know you could do it in the future"?

Many thanks in advance.

Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
 
  • HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Then the equivalent to it is
    "If it were only to ...".

    Even with this, I still don't get the sentence. What shade of sense does "only" add? How would you use this construct? An example or two might help me understand and become able to use it. Thanks in advance.

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    Melz0r

    Senior Member
    English, England
    In its simplest sense, you could rewrite the sentence as,

    "It was nice to hear you apologize anyway. It let me know that you could do it in the future."

    That covers the basic meaning. The "if only to..." means that what followed it was the only positive consequence of the apology. According to the speaker, the apology was not necessary (as "What happened to Tim wasn't your fault) but there was one good thing about it, which comes after the 'if only'.

    I believe it's a shorter form of the following:

    "It was nice to hear you apologise. Even if it were only to know that you could do it in the future."
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    “If only to know” is a very short phrase which can sometimes be used to say a great deal. The last part of the example sentence could be re-written like this:

    “It was nice to hear you apologise (for something you didn’t do). If it had only taught me that you were able to do it, that would have been nice enough—but it showed me also other things about you: for example, that you were capable of humility.”
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Thanks all for your help. Just so I could use the expression in the right way, would someone please comment on what I wrote using it?

    In the middle of nowhere, all we could see was arid yellowish terrain. The power got down quite frequently. The camp became pitch dark every once in a while at night. The temperature hiked up to over 110 F around two in the daytime, and dropped to 25 F before dawn. Despite all that, the Army was good at setting up and wiring all our computers. We could write to our friends by email about thirty minutes a day, if only to know we could at least communicate to the civilized world.
    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    [...] We could write to our friends by email about thirty minutes a day, if only to know we could at least communicate to the civilized world. (HSS, post #6)

    This is partly right, HSS, but, I’m afraid, partly wrong.

    The expression ‘if only to do something’ (you can use any verb after ‘if only to’) should appear in a sentence with four distinct parts:

    first: an initial action;
    second: ‘if only to...’;
    third: one (or some) of the benefits from the initial action; and
    fourth: the other benefits which remain unspoken.

    If you analyse the example sentence, you will find that it is back-to-front: the benefit of being able to write to friends comes from knowing that you can communicate, not the other way around. In other words, you might write to friends when you know you can communicate, but you don’t know you can communicate by writing to friends.

    Not only that, but the verb to know in ‘if only to know’ just doesn’t work in this sentence. You don’t write to friends ‘to know’ something—the act of writing doesn’t cause you to know anything. You write to friends if only to tell them you’re thinking of them; you write to friends if only to keep the boredom away; you write to friends if only to avoid thinking about the next battle; you write to friends if only to keep in touch...

    So how could the example sentence be written correctly with the least number of changes? Here is one suggestion, with the fourth (unspoken) part in red:

    The Army had set up all our computers, and that was a relief—if only to know we could at least communicate with the civilised world (and write to our loved ones).

    I hope this helps a bit.
     

    Melz0r

    Senior Member
    English, England
    I found an example from a book I was reading today, and immediately thought of this thread:

    "Why don't you all come to my house this weekend, eh?" Chief Okonji asked. "If only to sample my cook's fish pepper soup. The chap is from Nembe: he knows what to do with fresh fish."

    - from Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    This illustrates the construction quite well. The Chief actually wants the family to come over so that he can seduce their daughter, which is the unspoken part, and the fish pepper soup is a benefit he's thought of.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    [1] You write to friends if only to tell them you’re thinking of them
    [2] You write to friends if only to keep the boredom away
    [3] You write to friends if only to avoid thinking about the next battle
    [4] You write to friends if only to keep in touch...

    Thanks for your elaborate explanation, johndot and MelzOr.

    Could you re-write them as
    [1] You write to friends, perhaps, only to tell them you’re thinking of them
    [2] You write to friends, perhaps, only to keep the boredom away
    [3] You write to friends, perhaps, only to avoid thinking about the next battle
    [4] You write to friends, perhaps, only to keep in touch...

    and still keep the basic sense of what you want to say?

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Could you re-write them as
    [1] You write to friends, perhaps, only to tell them you’re thinking of them
    [2] You write to friends, perhaps, only to keep the boredom away
    [3] You write to friends, perhaps, only to avoid thinking about the next battle
    [4] You write to friends, perhaps, only to keep in touch...
    and still keep the basic sense of what you want to say?

    (HSS, post #9)

    No, none of these has exactly the same meaning as when the phrase ‘if only to ...’ is used.

    If you put ‘perhaps’ in the middle of the sentence, it might refer to the phrase before or the phrase after it, and therefore the sentence is ambiguous. To my mind, there is also a negative implication.

    ‘Perhaps’ cannot replace ‘if’, because ‘perhaps’ indicates uncertainty whereas ‘if’ points to a condition.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    We could write to our friends by email about thirty minutes a day, if only to know we could at least communicate to the civilized world.

    [...]
    If you analyse the example sentence, you will find that it is back-to-front: the benefit of being able to write to friends comes from knowing that you can communicate, not the other way around. In other words, you might write to friends when you know you can communicate, but you don’t know you can communicate by writing to friends.

    Hi.

    It's been quite a while since I posted last, but I couldn't have taken too much time to think about this issue. I was freed from my work today, and was able to read the thread again.

    Probably because of my lack of thorough familiarity with the word, "communicate," I somehow gather being able to write, among other possible means, could enable you to communicate with the rest of the world. To me, communication (exchange of thoughts, etc.) is a beneficial product of being able to write. johndot, or anybody, please enlighten me.

    Also, I would just like to know if "if only to" is regarded as an idiomatic expression. I have been trying to break it down to build up the whole sense of it from its element meanings, but if it is an idiom, there wouldn't be a point of doing it. I will just memeorize the usage, and get used to the phrase if so.

    Best,

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     
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    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Probably because of my lack of thorough familiarity to the word, "communicate," I somehow gather being able to write, among other possible means, could enable you to communicate with the rest of the world. To me, communication (exchange of thoughts, etc.) is a beneficial product of being able to write. johndot, or anybody, please enlighten me.

    Also, I would just like to know if "if only to" is regarded as an idiomatic expression. I have been trying to break it down to build up the whole sense of it from its element meanings, but if it is an idiom, there wouldn't be a point of doing it. I will just memeorize the usage, and get used to the phrase if so.
    (HSS, post #12)

    I think perhaps that the thread title should be changed because “if only to” does not correctly describe the topic nor the expression; this may be making it difficult for you, HSS, from understanding. Properly, the title should be “if only (to do something)” or “if only (+ infinitive)”.

    Now, let’s have a look at the meaning of ‘communicate’. A broad definition would be transmit ideas or information, and you are quite right to say that “communication is a beneficial product of being able to write.” But being able to write is not communication!

    In post #7 I said that there were four ‘ingredients’ to the if only (...) sentence, but I’m afraid I omitted to mention that there is also a condition which must be true in each case: if you remove the two words if only, the sentence will (and must) still make sense.

    Do try this quick exercise with phrases suggested in the thread; and then do the same with your own sentence: “We could write to our friends by email about thirty minutes a day, if only to know we could at least communicate to the civilized world.” I hope you can see clearly that by removing ‘if only’, the idea that remains is illogical, and to make it logical you would have to rewrite the sentence completely.

    And here’s another helpful (I hope) hint which I’ve just thought of: in any sentence which contains if only (to do something) if you replace just the one word ‘if’ with ‘but not’, you will find that the meaning is still clear, and also emphasis is put on the ‘unspoken elements’. Try it!

    I hope all the above will make things clearer.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I've been thinking about this thread all afternoon:D

    I think johndot's latest post provides some further helpful tips, HSS - in particular, the tip that the sentence should make sense if you remove "if only":
    She wanted to know the truth (in order) to stop the pictures in her head:tick:
    She wanted to know the truth if only to stop the pictures in her head:tick:

    As regards the difference between these two sentences, I think the addition of "if only" changes the meaning to something like "... even if the only outcome would be to stop the pictures in her head".

    So, looking back at your original quote: it was nice to hear you apologize anyway. If only to know you could do it in the future.
    You could 'translate' this as it was nice to hear you apologize anyway. Even if the only outcome is that I know you could do it in the future.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I think I've got it! You may even rephrase "if only to do" as "(even) if it was (is, would be etc.) only to do," may you not? With this I would feel comfortable using it.

    Do you regard this expression as an idiom? My (many) dictionaries do not have it as an idiom.

    Thanks for your very exhaustive explanations thus far!

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think I've got it! You may even rephrase "if only to do" as "(even) if it was (is, would be etc.) only to do," may you not?
    Yes, you can indeed :tick::tick: Do you want to try a few more examples, just to make sure?

    Do you regard this expression as an idiom?
    No, I don't think I do, Hiro. More a "turn of phrase" :)
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Yes, Loob, I will try that, but let me write about what I thought last night first:

    I think I've got it! You may even rephrase "if only to do" as "(even) if it was (is, would be etc.) only to do," may you not? With this I would feel comfortable using it.
    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan

    I thought about
    [1] She looked at me as if to say she was sorry.
    [2] She wiped her eyes as if crying.

    The paraphrases would be
    [1-1] She looked at me as if she did to say she was sorry.
    [2-1] She wiped her eyes as if she did so crying.

    By analogy I was thinking maybe you could place the repeats of the main clauses after "if" to render paraphrases of "if only to do" sentences, such as ...

    - It was nice to hear you apologize anyway if I heard you do so only to know you could do it in the future.
    - The Army set up all our computers, and that was a relief—if they set them up only to know we could at least communicate with the civilised world.
    - You write to friends if you do only to tell them you’re thinking of them
    - You write to friends if you do only to keep the boredom away
    - You write to friends if you do only to avoid thinking about the next battle
    - You write to friends if you do only to keep in touch.

    With that and all the ideas thus far, I came up with a few more sentences:

    [3] We went to Jayson's home if only to see him at the entrance. His father was an architect, and just imagine how gorgeous the porch was!

    [4] I bought that expensive magazine if only to read that tiny article. It contained a great deal of new medical findings.

    [5] We found the missing dog finally. What a relief --- if only to see his happy face! Those animal therapists said he could help many of the patients heal. His smile had miraculously turned many patients a lot better.

    What do you think of my sentences?

    Best,

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I’m sorry, HSS, but most of your post #18 has veered off-topic. If you wish to discuss ‘as if...’ and ‘... if you do,’ then you should open new threads. So I will confine myself to commenting on your example sentences [3], [4] and [5], which remain in the topic ‘if only...’

    [3] We went to Jayson's home if only to see him at the entrance. His father was an architect, and just imagine how gorgeous the porch was! Here, the first sentence is ‘unreal’, despite the second sentence which should have been there to clarify the first. Your understanding of the use of ‘if only’ has not been demonstrated.

    [4] I bought that expensive magazine if only to read that tiny article. It contained a great deal of new medical findings. This is fine: the first sentence can (and should) stand alone.

    [5] We found the missing dog finally. What a relief --- if only to see his happy face! Those animal therapists said he could help many of the patients heal. His smile had miraculously turned many patients a lot better. The first two sentences are fine, and idiomatic. I assume that the 3rd and 4th sentences are the ‘unspoken benefits’? If so, I’m afraid they don’t really work. The sense of relief came from finding the dog and seeing its happy face—not from what the therapists said. The spoken and unspoken benefits must relate to the phrase which precedes ‘if only’, thus: “What a relief—if only to see his happy face! (And to know that he was safe; and to know that he could continue to help patients, etc.)
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi.

    Thanks, johndot.

    I just used the paraphrases of the "as if" sentences to know if the other way, shown there, of paraphrasing "if only to do" would be acceptable (so I could see if my understanding is right). I looked upon the "as if" sentences as if-analog sentences, so to speak, and see if the idea I used for it could be used for "if only to do."

    I'm getting the gist of "if only to do" sentences. Many thanks to you and everybody else who helped me!

    Could anyone please comment on my new paraphrases, derived with reference to the "as if" paraphrases, are okay although they may not be natural? (It's okay if they are not natural so long as the notion used there is acceptable because what matters now is how I could see the way the meaning of "if only to do" sentences are derived)

    Again, many thanks, all!

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    I hope you will come, if only to please me.
    I found this in a book. What do you think would be the unspoken benefit?

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan

    P.S. I'd be much obliged if anyone would comment on my new "if only" paraphrases, derived with reference to the "as if" paraphrases, in my last post.;)
     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi, there.

    There would be millions, but I'm not too positive about what I think:
    I hope you will come, if only to please me (and, maybe, I could ask you out).
    I hope you will come, if only to please me (and, maybe, you would be able to see lots of my friends --- you too enjoy yourself a lot).

    johndot, could you also comment on the following paraphrases? I'd appreciate it very much.

    - It was nice to hear you apologize anyway (even) if (I heard you do so) only to know you could do it in the future.
    - The Army set up all our computers, and that was a relief— (even) if (they set them up) only to know we could at least communicate with the civilised world.
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to tell them you’re thinking of them
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to keep the boredom away
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to avoid thinking about the next battle
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to keep in touch.

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Could anyone please comment on my new paraphrases are okay although they may not be natural? (It's okay if they do not sound natural so long as the notion used there is acceptable because what matters to me now is the way the meaning of "if only to do" sentences are derived)

    - It was nice to hear you apologize anyway (even) if (I heard you do so) only to know you could do it in the future.
    - The Army set up all our computers, and that was a relief— (even) if (they set them up) only to know we could at least communicate with the civilised world.
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to tell them you’re thinking of them
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to keep the boredom away
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to avoid thinking about the next battle
    - You write to friends (even) if (you do) only to keep in touch.

    Many thank in advance.

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    HSS, at first glance the following might not appear to answer your posts #23 and 24—but in some respects at least, it does, I hope.

    You use the expression ‘if only’ in a sentence in order to say briefly and without complicated, perhaps unnecessary, explanations the important reason for doing something, in the knowledge that the person you’re speaking to will quite soon enough ask you for the bits left unspoken, provided he or she really wants to know them.

    The above single-sentence paragraph could be rewritten thus:

    You use the expression, if only to keep the sentence short and to the point.
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Yes, it does, johndot. You and everybod else's help has been enormous. It quite helped me a lot. Thanks!

    I just wanted to know if my added red part would be okay, for the sake of us, non-native speakers, understanding. "if" is a conjunction, isn't it? So I added the subjects and the verbs.

    Again, many, many thanks! Have a good day!

    Hiro
     

    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    To johnbot, or, actually, to anyone:

    [...] The expression ‘if only to do something’ should appear in a sentence with four distinct parts:

    first: an initial action;
    second: ‘if only to...’;
    third: one (or some) of the benefits from the initial action; and
    fourth: the other benefits which remain unspoken.
    I've been thinking of my example sentences. Would you please help me clarify the things that I don't understand in your (johnbot's) explanations?

    [3] We went to Jayson's home if only to see him at the entrance. His father was an architect, and just imagine how gorgeous the porch was! Here, the first sentence is ‘unreal’, despite the second sentence which should have been there to clarify the first. Your understanding of the use of ‘if only’ has not been demonstrated.
    johnbot says my first sentence is 'unreal.' What do you think he means by 'unreal'?
    Also, I meant to write the second and third sentences to indicate he was able to see the gorgeous porch, as a by-product of his visit. I know this is hard to see just by reading the first sentence. Should 'if only to do' sentences easily get the readers to think of any other benefit that are not spoken of; thus, should the following sentences be supportive of these?
    [3-1] Jayson's father was an architect, and I'd heard a lot about the gorgeous, futuristic porch of his house. I really wanted to see the entrance. One Sunday morning we had to meet him urgently about what we were planning to do in Math the next day. We gave him a call before going to his house. Although he said he couldn't let us in his house for some reason or the other, we went there anyway if only to see him at the entrance. Gee whiz, the porch did not parallel anything on the Earch!
    [5] We found the missing dog finally. What a relief --- if only to see his happy face! Those animal therapists said he could help many of the patients heal. His smile had miraculously turned many patients a lot better.The first two sentences are fine, and idiomatic. I assume that the 3rd and 4th sentences are the ‘unspoken benefits’? If so, I’m afraid they don’t really work. The sense of relief came from finding the dog and seeing its happy face—not from what the therapists said. The spoken and unspoken benefits must relate to the phrase which precedes ‘if only’, thus: “What a relief—if only to see his happy face! (And to know that he was safe; and to know that he could continue to help patients, etc.)
    What if the third and fourth sentences are placed before the first, so that the readers can easily imagine the author was relieved that many patiets would be saved?

    Many thanks in advance.

    Hiro/ Sendai, Japan
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Hello HSS,

    To simplify things, I'll comment on only one of these. (Or course I can't speak for JohnDot.)

    I think JohnDot's analysis of the structure is very useful. I would add something to it, though. I would say that the benefit derived from the initial action often is one that might seem less important than the "unspoken benefits," in the eyes of other people, at least.

    Concerning your sentence #3 about the porch. I'm going to change the context somewhat. You are going to Jayson's house to study. The reader should know from what you say earlier in the story that the benefits are:
    1) That Jayson's house is the quietest and best place to study.
    2) That Jayson wants to study in his house, and he knows a lot and can help you.
    3) That you will get to see the new porch.
    Of these, the last might seem the least important. However, to you it might as important as or more important than the studying. You will say:

    We decided to study at Jason's house, if only to see the porch his father had designed. And it was better than we could have imagined.


     
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    HSS

    Senior Member
    Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
    Hi, Cagey.

    Thanks for your help. I think my understanding of the construct now is one notch deeper.

    Could I please hear what you think johnbot meant by 'unreal'?

    Thanks, Cagey.

    Hiro
     

    johndot

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thank you, Cagey, for answering (post #28) one of HSS’s questions—and for doing it admirably! I will now try to answer another.

    From my post #19:

    [3] We went to Jayson's home if only to see him at the entrance. His father was an architect, and just imagine how gorgeous the porch was! Here, the first sentence is ‘unreal’, despite the second sentence which should have been there to clarify the first. Your understanding of the use of ‘if only’ has not been demonstrated.

    HSS, I said this was ‘unreal’ because (1) it is unnatural, especially bearing in mind that I know none of the background, and (2) as an example it is contrived and awkward, and as I commented, it doesn’t demonstrate why ‘if only’ has been used—you have simply written a sentence with ‘if only’ in it. Also, you have said, in effect, “We went to Jayson’s home—to see him at the entrance.” Well, you would, wouldn’t you? The whole point of an ‘if only’ clause is to introduce a new element—and often the new element is a surprise, something unexpected, which takes precedence (for the time being) over all the other reasons you might have for doing what you’ve described in the first clause.

    Here’s a re-working of your example sentence for you to consider and compare; I won’t give any ‘unspoken elements’ because they’re not necessary.

    We went to Jayson’s home, if only to see the new porch which he keeps going on about.

    I hope that this, and Cagey’s post, will help a little more. Good luck!
     
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