...knew the world to be vs knew the world was

Yang

Senior Member
Taiwan /Traditional Chinese
(I am not sure whether I should split this post into another thread or not. If any moderator thinks this further discussion should be split, please do so.:) )

James, what I intended to ask was what the different meaning between 'to be' and 'was' is. I think 'what he knew the world to be' is different from 'what he knew the world was', as 'He was happy' is different from 'He wanted to be happy.' Sorry I didn't express my query clearly.:p

If we are talking about something that was true, shouldn't we use 'was'? 'To be' seems mean something that wasn't true. Therefor, should it have been 'between what he knew the world was and what he tried to believe the world to be'? (This is the query why I asked.)

You can easily substitue "was" for "to be" in that sentence. If you do that, you form a dependent clause (he (subject) knew (predicate) the world (subject of dependent clause) was (predicate of dependent clause) what (predicate nominative of dependent clause).
And your further explanation of an infinitive phrase and a dependent clause inspired me to ponder the original sentences, I found they are interesting and puzzling:
1.) 'what he knew' (a noun clouse) comes from 'what did he know?' (a question)
2.) 'what he tried to believe' (a noun clouse) comes from 'what did he try to believe?' (a question)
Am I right about the two sentences?

Now, here come the interesting parsers that puzzled me.
What's the normal order of a noun clause(dependent clause) like 'what he knew the world to be'?
1.) he knew the world to be what
2.) he knew what the world to be
3.) what did he knew the world to be
Which one?
I asked this because I believe James' explanation. If I am correctly understand what James said, the correct answer is 1. However, according to what I learned, 3 seems to be the original sentence of the noun clause. I am confused...

Another example of 'what he tried to believe the world to be':
1.) he tried to believe the world to be what
2.) he tried to believe what the world to be
3.) what did he try to believe the world to be

This one puzzles me more:
*what he knew the world was
1.) he knew what the world was (this's how I thought but obviously is wrong )
2.) he knew the world was what
3.) what did he know the world was

*what he tried to believe the world was
1.) he tried to believe what the world was
2.) he tried to believe the world was what
3.) what did he try to believe the world was

If there is anyone reading this with impatient and can't understand, I apologize and can fully understand because I had tried to write them down in clear way yet not succeed. The confusing post represents my confusing mind.
 
  • James Stephens

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    "What he knew the world to be" has the same meaning as "what he knew the world was"

    If we are talking about something that was true, shouldn't we use 'was'? Yes.

    To be' seems mean something that wasn't true. Nope. This is an echo of its subjunctive past (see below) It's neutral. I want to be rich. It's true I want to be, but it is not true that I am.

    "to be" and "be" are two very different forms of the same verb. "Be" has only one tense and one person and has evolved from a commonly used subjunctive, e.g. Shakespeares work. It has lost its gentillesse and is now used only in the imperative. Example, Be there or be counted late.

    Should it have been 'between what he knew the world was and what he tried to believe the world to be'? (This is the query why I asked.)

    It is a question of style. The author could have used either construction to convey the same thought, but not both as you suggest. If he had written "he knew what the world was," he would have had to use the parallel constructon, "what he tried to believe the world was."

    Numbered Questions:
    Q1. The noun clauses are the compound objects of the preposition "between"

    Q2. #1 is correct. Each of the noun clauses has within it a infinitive phrase.

    Q3. #1 is correct

    Q4. #2 is correct. See note on parallel construction above

    Q5 #2 is correct.

    All this reverting to normal order when parsing a sentence is a way of claifying meaning and proper grammatal useage. Obviously, it does not reflect the spoken language, but the bones of the language arranged for inspection.

    I used to be an English teacher. I have not thought of these things in these terms for many years. Thanks for the memories.
     

    Yang

    Senior Member
    Taiwan /Traditional Chinese
    James, now I know the reason why I have been confused.
    I learned that a noun clause beginning with a question word is original a question such as 'What did she say?' in 'What she said surprised me' or 'I listened to what she said.'. That's why I can't get used to 'what he knew the world to be' still remains as 'he knew the world to be what'--it's not a question!

    But I do know the difference between 'he knew (that) the world was what' (a dependent clause/noun clause) and 'he knew the world to be what' (an infinitive phrase working as an object).

    I still can't help thinking 'he knew the world was what' should be 'he knew what the world was'. >"<

    Thank you, James. Such an excellent explanation.:)
    I will continue to ponder them.

    Best regards,

    Yang
     
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