Very few in this country can rival your breathtaking language skills – if any at all!I would like to know whether “if any at all” refers to “Very few” or ironically to “language skills” in the sentence cited above? In other words I would like to know which of those two sentences is a more accurate translation:1. Very few – if any at all – in this country can rival your breathtaking language skills!2. Very few in this country can rival your breathtaking language skills – if (you had) any (language skills) at all
I think the intended meaning is that “if any at all” refers directly to “very few.” However, it is misplaced.
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Your sentence No. 1 makes the most sense to me. For added clarity, I might insert “people” or “individuals” in the subordinate clause. I don”t know if the dashes are necessary, however. You can convey the exact same thought with commas:Very few individuals, if any at all, in this country can rival your breathtaking language skills!
I would rely on context to decide the meaning intended. I think it”s rather funny. I find no problem with the placement of it (if any at all), and no problem with the dash. It”s clever and it”s a stylistic choice. If I were to read that as a caption in a single frame comic, where either meaning could be intended, I would laugh.
I don”t think there is any ambiguity here. It might simply sound confusing to you because “if any at all” is so far away from the “very few
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…because it is clear from the formulation of the first part of the sentence that the speaker believes you do have good language skills.
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In fact, from the way the sentence is contructed, there is ambiguity. Nothing that should so confuse the reader though, that any clarrification in context could not solve that problem of ambiguity. There really is no way, none what-so-ever, of analyzing just that sentence and coming to the conclusion that one or the other of the two interpretations is true. The fact is that the author may be trying to be sarcastic, to jest, to make a joke, be clever, or maybe, simply just point out that possibly very few people in the country, poissibly none, can rival the subject”s language skills. Context is reuired, absolutely. There can be conjecture of course, but there still are only two possibilities, and no amount of conjecture for one or the other can be said to be right without knowing the actual intention of the author in context.