Question from English4Today member Joshua in the USA

What does this mean? “The ships experienced several days of rough seas but managed to avoid the most dangerous parts of the Cyclone?” Does this mean they avoided danger altogether?

Answer

Hi Joshua, let’s take a look at the sentence without that little modifier ‘must’ that seems to be creating the ambiguity!

The ships experienced several days of rough seas but managed to avoid the dangerous parts of the Cyclone.

Now, if I read that sentence we can imagine the cyclone being made up of a series of ‘parts’ : not dangerous part, the dangerous part, the more dangerous part, and the most dangerous part. Note, that if we drop the ‘most’ from the sentence, it is now clear that the ship was in no danger at all.

The ship, according to the sentence, had several days of rough seas that we have to assume were a result of the cyclone. This is an assumption as it is not directly stated but I think it is a pretty fair thing to assume given the context of the sentence. However, these ‘rough seas’ (created by the cyclone) were not the ‘most dangerous parts’ of the cyclone. This then places the ship in one of the other ‘parts’ – not at all dangerous, or more dangerous.

The modifier ‘most‘, an adverb of comparison and the superlative (as there is nothing greater than ‘most’), suggests that the ship was in a ‘dangerous part’ of the cyclone, thus the rough seas, but was not in that area that was the worst or ‘most’ dangerous.

So, I think that we can assume that the ship went through rough seas associated with the cyclone that were dangerous but didn’t reach the level of the ‘most dangerous parts’. The level of the danger to the ship isn’t revealed in the sentence but it could have been worse! That much is indicated in the sentence quite clearly.

I hope that answers your question, Joshua, and helps a little to clarify the sentence.

Anthony Hughes
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