Etymology Usage

As far as we’re concerned

Q: What do you make of this sentence: “The chapter is concerned to trace the trajectory of the process”? The author seems to be using “is concerned” in the sense of “intends,” but none of the dictionaries I’ve consulted has this meaning.

A: This is a new one on us, though people have written to complain about the use of “concerning” as an adjective meaning “of growing concern” (as in “The high water levels are concerning”).

In a posting on the blog a few years ago, we said “concerning” isn’t normally used this way as an adjective meaning “worrying” or “alarming.”

But “concerned” (as an adjective or a verb), can mean the same as “worried” or “alarmed.”

And “concerned” has another meaning as well—“involved” or “having an interest.”

No matter how “concerned” is used—whether to mean anxious or merely involved—it can be used with or without a preposition.

Here are preposition-free examples:

“We were extremely concerned” … “The concerned parties were gathered” … “The meeting concerned campaign strategy.”

And here are examples with prepositions:

“We aren’t concerned in the matter” … “He’s concerned with accounting but not with budgeting” … “Mom and dad are concerned about you” … “The doctor isn’t concerned by the lump.”

But what about “to,” the preposition in the sentence you’ve ask about?

When “concerned” means troubled, it’s often followed by “to” plus an infinitive.

Examples: “The doctor wasn’t concerned to find a lump” … “I was concerned to hear you were ill” … “We were concerned to learn you’d been fired.”

However, the “to”-plus-infinitive construction is less common when “concerned” has to do simply with involvement—having a responsibility or obligation to do something, having it as one’s business, or caring about it.

The Oxford English Dictionary has many examples of this less common usage, but most of them are centuries old. We’ll give a few and insert the meaning in brackets.

1652: “Princes are concerned [obligated] to bee warie and careful” (from a translation of Marchamont Nedham’s Of the Dominion or Ownership of the Sea).

1659: “That gentleman will be concerned [make it his business] to name them in a fitter season” (from Thomas Burton’s Diary).

1735: “I shall think myself concern’d [responsible] to pursue my Thoughts upon this Subject” (from John Price’s Some Considerations … for Building a Stone-bridge Over the River Thames).

1876: “I am not concerned [don’t care] to tell of the food that was eaten in that green refectory” (from George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda).

In modern English, we don’t see this usage much. And there’s a good reason—it’s sometimes ambiguous.

Take the sentence “The doctor wasn’t concerned to find a lump.”

Most of us would interpret this as meaning the doctor wasn’t worried. But a 17th-century interpretation could mean the doctor didn’t make it his business to look for a lump.

If there’s no worrying involved, as in the example you cite, modern writers would avoid using “concerned” plus “to” plus an infinitive.

We’d rewrite the sentence using “with” as the preposition: “The chapter is concerned with tracing the trajectory of the process.”

Check out our books about the English language