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Question He could do anything/nothing but give up his plan against his will.

hirashin

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Dear native English speakers,
I have a question.

Do both sentences make sense? If so, what's the difference in meaning?
(a) He could do anything but give up his plan against his will.
(b) He could do nothing but give up his plan against his will.

Hirashin
 

Michael2

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For me only the second would make sense grammatically, but "give up his plan against his will" is an odd phrase. What is the exact situation? It sounds odd to say "All I can do is give up". That's not "doing" anything. You might say "There's nothing I can do but do what they want me to do"
 

mdchachi

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I agree (b) is the only one that is correct. The phrasing is a little stilted but it makes sense. More natural phrasing would be something like
He could do nothing but give up his dream.

If Michael2 is saying that "do nothing but give up" is not acceptable I don't agree. After all doing "nothing" is still doing something. ;)
 

Michael2

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Yeah I agree you certainly can't say it's wrong in a grammatical sense, but you don't find it in the vernacular. You say "I had no choice but to give up", but not "We could do nothing but give up." I think you'd say what you're actual action was, e.g. "We could do nothing but accept defeat and come home."/"We could do nothing but sit in our tent and wait for the storm to pass"
 

hirashin

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Thanks for the help, Michael2 and mdchachi. How about this?
He had to give up his plan against his will.
 

Michael2

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I think you'd say "give up on his plans" but the whole sentence still sounds a bit odd. What is the situation?
 

Michael2

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I think it should be "give up on", because it's not simply a case of stopping something, which you could normally substitute "give up" with, e.g, I gave up smoking/I stopped smoking. Here the meaning is a bit different; trying to achieve or do something, like it says here.


For me it's the same structure as when you say, "He just won't listen to me. I've given up on him", where "I've given up him" wouldn't make sense and "I've given him up" would be a different meaning.

Happy Christmas btw!!
 

hirashin

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Thanks, Michael2 and mdchachi.
I think you'd say "give up on his plans" but the whole sentence still sounds a bit odd. What is the situation?

There is no context there because it's a grammar question of an entrance examination. It's something like :
Choose the correct word for the blank : He could do __________ but give up his plan against his will. (a) anything (b) something (c) nothing

I've found exactly the same sentence here : do nothing but - English-Japanese Dictionary - Glosbe
He could do nothing but give up his plan against his will.
Tatoeba-2020.08
彼は心ならずも計画をあきらめるほか仕方がなかった。

Does this sentence sound odd?

It’s fine from a grammatical standpoint.
Do you mean it's not a common way of saying?
 

Michael2

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Right. Yes, I think it's wrong. You can "give up ....ing", meaning "stop ....ing" e.g "give up studying French", but in this sentence the meaning is "to stop thinking something is going to succeed" where you should use "give up on", e.g "I think I'll have to give up on the idea that I'll ever be fluent in Japanese"

I have to say a lot of the sentences in that dictionary sound a bit odd, not sentences that a native speaker would use or have said. There are also a few places where commas have been singly used so I wouldn't trust it completely.
 

mdchachi

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Do you mean it's not a common way of saying?
Yes. It’s understandable and fine in my opinion. But combining “giving up” and “against his will” is not common. Perhaps it’s because “against his will” is redundant. The meaning is basically the same without it.
 
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