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This following sentence is puzzling me. Neither can I understand the meaning, nor can I reason the grammatical soundness of the sentence.

Some symbols acquire a multitude of meanings, some widely shared, others personal, some contradictory, conflicted, or ambivalent.

Please help understand the meaning and grammatical explanation.

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How about, "Some symbols acquire a multitude of meanings, some of these meanings are widely shared, others are personal, some are contradictory, conflicted, or ambivalent." –  Jim Dec 24 '13 at 18:26
    
@Jim, your sentence is easy to understand. I still wonder how the sentence I wrote can be correct. –  Deepan Das Dec 24 '13 at 18:37
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We are dealing here with participle clauses. Some symbols acquire a multitude of meanings, some widely being shared, others being personal, some *being contradictory, conflicted, or ambivalent. –  JayHook Dec 24 '13 at 19:12
    
Some symbols acquire a multitude of meanings, **as** some of these meanings are widely shared, others are personal, some are contradictory, conflicted, or ambivalent. The sentence in question can be rephrased using adverbial clauses. –  JayHook Dec 24 '13 at 19:14

2 Answers 2

The implicit verb is simply “be”:

Some symbols acquire a multitude of meanings,
some [of which] [are] widely shared [meanings],
others [of which] [are] personal [meanings],
[and] some [of which] [are] contradictory, conflicted, or ambivalent [meanings].

This is a common structure to describe different parts of a subject with different adjectives, while avoiding repetition of the subject or verb. For example:

I bought four apples: two red, two green.

All of these are equivalent:

  • I bought four apples: two apples [were] red, two apples [were] green.
  • I bought four apples: two red ones, two green ones.
  • I bought four apples: two red apples and two green apples.
  • I bought four apples. Two of them were red and two of them were green.

The last case is one of the relatively rare instances in English where adjectives can be used postpositively, that is, after the noun they modify. This mostly comes up with things like “best possible” (“the best hotel possible”) or in poetic language.

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I'm not sure "[of which are]" is the right expansion; something like "I'm buying four books, two of them new" is fine, while *"I'm buying four books, two of them of which are new" is not. –  ruakh Dec 24 '13 at 20:42
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@ruakh: Of course, you’re taking my first example too literally. I only added the “of which” because there was nothing like “of them” as there is in your example. It’s “I’m buying four books, two of them new [books]”. –  Jon Purdy Dec 24 '13 at 21:04

There is no verb missing in this sentence. The sentence is somewhat unorthodox, in that the entire fragment in boldface is a series of modifiers of "a multitude of meanings." In this case, they are identifying the different components of the multitude:

  • widely shared meanings
  • personal meanings
  • contradictory meanings
  • conflicted meanings
  • ambivalent meanings

I think clarity arises if you punctuate the sentence somewhat differently:

Some symbols acquire a multitude of meanings: some widely shared, others personal; some contradictory, conflicted, or ambivalent.

However, either form is possible.

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