whether they didn’t fail because

SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
Everyone knew that you couldn’t rely on Eurasians, sooner or later they would let you down; he knew it too, but now he asked himself whether they didn’t fail because failure was expected of them. They were never given a chance, poor devils.
(W.S. Maugham; The Yellow Streak)

Can I say without changing the meaning "...but now he asked himself whether they failed because failure was expected of them."?

Thanks.
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Yes, it has substantially the same meaning.

    The difference is in nuance or tone. The original sounds more tentative.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It does change the meaning.
    The key is, what was the original question which 'he' asked himself?
    To answer this, we need to convert the indirect question back to the direct form.
    Maugham's version, 'whether they didn’t fail because failure was expected of them' becomes: 'Don't they fail because failure is expected of them?'
    The version 'whether they failed because failure was expected of them' becomes instead: 'Do they fail because failure is expected of them?'
    The difference is that the question put with the negative ('Don't they fail...?') is expecting the answer 'Yes', whereas the other version is open and does not expect either a yes or a no.
    What difference does this make?
    Well, the negative question, expecting the answer 'Yes', shows that 'he' is already of this opinion himself and is sympathetic to the Eurasians. On the other hand, the open question is academic, such as a researcher might ask at the start of a study, with no sympathy either way.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top