that he should/for him to

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that he should/for him to

Post by navi » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:55 am

Are these sentences both correct and do they mean the same:

1) That he should acknowledge that he has made a mistake will mark a moment in history.

2) For him to acknowledge that he has made a mistake will mark a moment in history.

Gratefully,
Navi
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Re: that he should/for him to

Post by Phil White » Thu Jan 14, 2021 2:20 pm

They are both compliant with the conventions of English grammar.

Neither are, however, particularly pretty.

Whether they mean the same thing is also moot.

The construction "for somebody to do something" generally puts the focus on the difficulty faced by the person concerned in doing what they did:
  • "For him to climb the Matterhorn at the age of eighty was a massive achievement."
  • "It will take a lot of effort for her to make the first team."
It can also suggest that something is extremely unlikely:
  • "It would take a miracle for him to admit he was wrong."
This is perhaps why sentence 2 sounds a little odd. "For him to ..." places the focus on the person concerned, whereas "mark a moment in history" places the focus on the reaction of other people. The two ideas do not fit together particularly well.

The simple subordinate clause with "that", on the other hand, is neutral. (I will retain the rhetorical inversion of the main clause and subordinate clause:
  • "That she recovered so well from her illness was a relief to everyone."
  • "That he admitted his mistake was the biggest surprise."
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Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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