Scarcely a breath of air disturbed the stillness of the day

Shandol

Senior Member
Persian
  • much_rice

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I think the Longman version is better, but yours is not necessarily wrong. "Scarcely did..." sounds more poetic, and probably wouldn't be used in speech.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think there's a difference between the two sentences.

    In Scarcely a breath of air disturbed ... "scarcely" modifies "a breath of air".

    In Scarcely did a breath of air disturb ... "scarcely" modifies "did ... disturb".


    EDIT: typo​
     
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    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    That's right, the modifier 'scarcely' is inside the subject in the original. How much air? A breath of air - scarcely that much - scarcely a breath. So also: 'Scarcely a day went by when I didn't think of her', and 'Scarcely anyone had heard of it'.
     

    Shandol

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Many thanks for the time you've spent for clarification. All of you.
    I think the Longman version is better, but yours is not necessarily wrong. "Scarcely did..." sounds more poetic, and probably wouldn't be used in speech.
    The structure that I have used was based upon Longman Complete Course for the TOEFL Test. It says the subject and verb can also be inverted after certain negative expressions, such as no, not, never and so forth. May I know your opinion about these negative expressions? I mean, what do you deduce if I says "Not once did I miss the question" or "Never has Mr.Jones taken a vacation". do they sound poetic too? Because all of them are following the same structure.
    I think there's a difference between the two sentences.

    In Scarcely a breath of air disturbed ... "scarcely" modifies "a breath of air".

    In Scarcely did a breath of air disturb ... "scarcely" modifies "did ... disturb".
    Would you please talk about it in more details? I mean, apart from grammatical point of view, I want to know their difference in terms of meaning.
     

    much_rice

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Would you please talk about it in more details? I mean, apart from grammatical point of view, I want to know their difference in terms of meaning.
    On rereading, I agree with Loob's grammatical analysis, but I doubt there's much difference in meaning. Both are saying that there is very little wind.

    I mean, what do you deduce if I say "Not once did I miss the question" or "Never has Mr.Jones taken a vacation". do they sound poetic too?
    To my 'merican ears, yes they sound poetic. I would use that inversion if I were being funny. My natural ways of expressing these two ideas would be I didn't miss a single question (I've guessed the context) and Mr. Jones has never taken a vacation. Perhaps the inverted forms are still current over in the UK.
     

    Shandol

    Senior Member
    Persian
    It says the subject and verb can also be inverted after certain negative expressions, such as no, not, never and so forth.
    One of those words is SELDOM.
    According to your explanation the following sentence is correct:
    I think the Longman version is better, but yours is not necessarily wrong.
    Seldom cactus plants are found outside of North America.

    The above-mentioned example is in the Longman Complete Course for the TOEFL Test. The question in the book asks the student to choose the segment of underlined word or group of words that is not correct. According to the book the student is expected to choose 'cactus plants are' as the answer (incorrect part). The correct form is 'are cactus plants' in the sentence. It means the correct form of the sentence is 'Seldom are cactus plants found outside of North America.'
    According to the book, both versions cannot be considered plausible and correct!
     

    Shandol

    Senior Member
    Persian
    "Seldom cactus plants are..." is not.
    Thank you for your answer. Can I know your idea as to the topic sentence?
    As far as I know, all of them are following the same structure! According to your comment,
    scarcely a breath of air disturbed the stillness of the day :cross:
    scarcely did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day :tick:
    RIGHT?
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    As Loob and entangledbank explained, in "Scarcely a breth of air," "scarcely" modifies "breath of air," not "disturbed." The two sentences do not mean the same thing.

    "Seldom" can not be used the same way. It can't modify "cactus plants," so that version of the sentence doesn't work.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    As Florentia says, the difference is that scarcely can be an integral part of a noun phrase, Patrick, but seldom can't - it always modifies a verb.

    Let's put scarcely as noun phrase element in blue and scarcely as verb modifier in red. Then we get the following options for the "breath of air" sentence:
    Scarcely a breath of air disturbed the stillness of the day.:tick:
    A breath of air scarcely disturbed the stillness of the day.:tick:
    Scarcely did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day.:tick:

    Now let's try replacing scarcely with seldom in that same sentence. There is no blue option because seldom can't be part of a noun phrase. So the only options are:
    A breath of air seldom disturbed the stillness of the day.:tick:
    Seldom did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day.:tick:

    Similarly with the "cactus plants" sentence - there is no blue option because seldom can't be part of a noun phrase. So the only options are:
    Cactus plants are seldom found outside of North America.:tick:
    Seldom are cactus plants found outside of North America.:tick:
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Scarcely a breath of air disturbed the stillness of the day.

    Working backwards:
    Q: What (kinds of things) disturbed the stillness of the day?
    A: Scarcely a breath of air.

    What that means is that not much at all disturbed the stillness of the day. Occasionally a breath of air (or a possible breath of air) might be felt, but very seldomly. And nothing stronger.

    Scarcely did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day

    Q: How often did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day?
    A: Scarcely.

    Meaning, not very often.

    So in one sentence the topic is the type and quantity of disturbances and in the other the frequency of a particular type of disturbance.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Well, you could call seldom an adverb of frequency and scarcely an adverb of degree....
     
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    Shandol

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Thank you so much for your contribution to this thread. @Loob & @kentix & @JulianStuart.

    Interesting isn’t it? Indeed it is!

    As far as I understood negative adverbs including barely, hardly, scarcely, rarely and even seldomly are adverbs of degree. Conversely, seldom can be put in the adverb of frequency category. To the best of my knowledge there is only one negative adverb that can be put in the adverb of frequency category. Thus, it is better to call it an exception! Right? :)

    <——-Edited by moderator (Florentia) to put words into lower case——->
     
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    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Infrequently? Rarely?

    Infrequently did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day
    Rarely did a breath of air disturb the stillness of the day
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    If infrequently doesn't belong in the frequency category, I don't know what does.:)

    Rarely is also about frequency.

    Neither is about degree, just about lengths of time.

    Seldom = seldomly = infrequently = rarely = hardly ever = not at all often
     
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    Shandol

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Thank you so much @kentix, but there is still an ambiguity. According to the above explanations (posts #14 & 15) all of the aforementioned adverbs in post #18 can be written in the form of verb modifier. It means that all of them can be somehow considered as adverbs of frequency. Right? There is another state that some of them can also be paraphrased in order to modify a noun phrase as @Loob said. All of them are adverbs of frequency, however some of them can also be adverbs of degree. Do you agree with me? What do you think about it?
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    According to the above explanations (posts #14 & 15) all of the aforementioned adverbs in post #18 can be written in the form of verb modifier. I
    barely, hardly, scarcely, rarely and even seldomly
    The only ones in that list that I see discussed in 14 and 15 are scarcely and seldom.

    Seldom and seldomly aren't different. They are both about frequency. They are just used in different parts of the sentence. Seldomly is a variant of seldom that some people consider obsolete or unneeded.
    I seldom go hiking. = I go hiking seldomly

    Either form is about how often something happens. As is rarely.

    In the discussion above about scarcely as an indicator of degree, the degree that is meant is not a degree of time (i.e. frequency). It's a degree of quality or comparison.

    Scarcely a breath of air means no movement of air stronger than a "breath" was present, and maybe not even that. There was no breeze, no light wind, no gust of wind, no gale, etc. present. At most, there was the occasionally breath of air, a movement so light you might even be uncertain you felt it.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Part of a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807 - 1882.

    Listen, my children, and you shall hear
    Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
    On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
    Hardly a man is now alive
    Who remembers that famous day and year.

    "Paul Revere's Ride"

    Hardly is a man now alive
    would have a different meaning.
     

    Shandol

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Thank you for your reply @kentix.
    I asked this question and I got my question answered. Take a look at post #6.
    Both are saying that there is very little wind.
    When it comes to scarcely there is not that much difference in terms of meaning between the two versions. I think the matter is getting complicated. Can I ask the difference between the two versions of hardly in terms of meaning? According to the Longman Complete Course for the TOEFL Test the correct form of all the mentioned adverbs in post #18 (except seldomly that hasn't been mentioned) is as a verb modifier, however I figured out that (from this thread) scarcely can also be in the form of noun phrase element (thanks to @Loob).
     
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