This I cannot do

< Previous | Next >

Silvia

Senior Member
Italian
This I cannot do vs I cannot do this

What's the difference? Is the first phrase more oldfashioned?

Thanks!
 
  • Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    I'd say the first one emphasizes that you can't do that one special homework etc. Example:

    A: Could you please help me with this assignment?
    B: Why? I don't get these formulas either.
    A: Hm ... please help me with this problem.
    B: Haha, this I cannot do. (< the person can maybe do some other problems, but not this at all)
    B: Haha, I cannot do this. (< the person could prossibly do the problem, but don't want, because it looks too complicated)

    This is just an opinion from a non-native. :eek:
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    While Whodunit's premise makes logical sense, the construction of the first sentence would be considered archaic and literary to most native AE speakers. (Our BE friends might offer a different opinion).

    I would say "I cannot do this," unless I really wanted to dramatize a particular point.
     

    Silvia

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Marlon Brando aka The Godfather says that in one of the earliest scenes of the movie. The movie takes place in the 40s.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Silvia said:
    This I cannot do vs I cannot do this

    What's the difference? Is the first phrase more oldfashioned?

    Thanks!
    "This I cannot do" - emphasizes "this, conveying, I can do many things, but this is too much; it is beyond what I consider possible.

    "I cannot do this," is more matter-of-fact (it could be said with a heavy stress on this to mean the same as the first, but the first is so much more emphatic in its suggestion of limits, that even reading it without context you would have the idea of the difference.
     

    Jonegy

    Senior Member
    UK - English
    Silvia said:
    This I cannot do vs I cannot do this

    What's the difference? Is the first phrase more oldfashioned?

    Thanks!
    The first one is usually spoken with the stress on "This" with the intention of saying that for some reason the action requested is against your up-bringing, religion or other sentiment that you feel. ( Requests :"Bring that corpse in here". - "Clean up those faeces, vomit etc; etc;" - Response: "This I cannot do !"

    The second is more usually concerned with your ability to perform a task. (Request to a Bus Driver, Carpenter, Street Vendor etc; etc; " Just slip into the Operating Theatre and do a frontal lobotomy on that fellow" - Response: " I cannot (can't) do this."............... Unless it's "Dubya" - in which case - " Get in the queue !!!!"

    Whoops !!! Wrong thread ! - Sorry about that !!
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    As far as UK English is concerned I completely agree with Genjen. "This I cannot do" is quite literary and poetic. The Godfather is speaking in a film and the language has probably been fashioned to be more "dramatic". Also, the Godfather's first language was Italian.
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Silvia said:
    Oh, don't let me get OT :D

    Don't you know the story? :)
    No, and now you have me even more curious. If you think it's of general interest, will you start a thread (or PM me of it is not)? :) Thanks!
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    lsp said:
    "This I cannot do" - emphasizes "this, conveying, I can do many things, but this is too much; it is beyond what I consider possible.

    "I cannot do this," is more matter-of-fact (it could be said with a heavy stress on this to mean the same as the first, but the first is so much more emphatic in its suggestion of limits, that even reading it without context you would have the idea of the difference.
    What if I said "This I've already known!" now? Would you consider me so dumb that I knew the answer of your question only, and nothing else? Just to get you back on-topic ... ;)
     

    lsp

    Senior Member
    NY
    US, English
    Whodunit said:
    What if I said "This I've already known!" now? Would you consider me so dumb that I knew the answer of your question only, and nothing else? Just to get you back on-topic ... ;)
    Yes.

    :D

    No, not really. It's a peculiar construction in English and is therefore used for a specific purpose. "This I already knew (not the way you said it, which is unlikely in the extreme)" means it ("this") is fairly obvious. In other words, I may not know a lot of things, but this I already knew.
     

    emma42

    Senior Member
    British English
    No, "this I've already known" would not be understood in that way. In fact, it is not good English. It would sound as if you wanted to say "I already knew this/that", simply meaning that you have been told something which you were already aware of/already knew.

    "Have known" would not be used in this context. You could use "know" with "have" in, for instance, the following:

    I have known many kind men.

    I have never known such an intelligent person.

    He has known [experienced] difficult times.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    emma42 said:
    No, "this I've already known" would not be understood in that way. In fact, it is not good English. It would sound as if you wanted to say "I already knew this/that", simply meaning that you have been told something which you were already aware of/already knew.

    "Have known" would not be used in this context. You could use "know" with "have" in, for instance, the following:

    I have known many kind men.

    I have never known such an intelligent person.

    He has known [experienced] difficult times.
    Ah thank you. This I didn't know yet. :D

    Now we have another case where I actually prefer the past tense, but the rules I learned (if 'already' is used, use the perfect) would disagree. I know there're some special cases where I have to use the past, but that's what I still need to learn.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Eagerly ignoring all the asides..

    If I spoke either of these, it would be with some kind of serious or mock-serious intent.
    Why?
    This I cannot do.
    ... for reasons already stated, sounds literary or pompous.
    I cannot do this.
    ... with the full statement of cannot does not come readily to my lips without an accompanying sigh and the back of the hand pressed soulfully against the forehead.

    For the "can't" versions, I think I'm with Jonegy - almost.
    The almost is that:
    This I can't do.
    ... would have to come from me with an element of caution for the mental state of the hearer who would, of course, have to cope with the shock:D
    and:
    I can't do this.
    ... could come with a serious attack of indignation that anyone could have thought I might entertain the possibility:)

    As with many of these short statements, a huge amount of meaning comes from the way they are said.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top