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The following sentence is from a GRE reading passage:

Even as the number of females processed through juvenile courts climbs steadily, an implicit consensus remains among scholars in criminal justice that male adolescents define the delinquency problem in the United States.

I don't quite understand the "that" clause in this sentence.

  • What kind of clauses is this? (I'm looking for the terminology so that I can read more about it in something like Wikipedia.)
  • I'm confused with this clause. I think it might be more readable if it was:

... in criminal justice that male adolescents define as the delinquency problem in the United States.

If this understanding is incorrect, should I view "male adolescents define the delinquency problem in the United States" as being in apposition to "criminal justice"?

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Strip out the verbiage that makes no difference here. A consensus remains that adolescents [do something]. No different to me saying "I think that this is General Reference." –  FumbleFingers Jun 26 '12 at 19:02

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The potential difficulty in this sentence is that that is somewhat distant from its antecedent consensus. If the extract is slightly altered to reunite the two words, the meaning becomes clear:

  • ... there remains among scholars in criminal justice an implicit consensus that male adolescents define the delinquency problem in the United States.
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+1 for addressing the underlying problem, not just the question asked. (The problem of using such turgid babble in an English test in the first place is probably beyond our scope.) –  TimLymington Jun 26 '12 at 17:33

The sentence means:

There are more and more juvenile females being tried in the courts. However, those who study criminal justice agree that male adolescents are still what define the delinquency problem in the United States. That is, teen males still make up the biggest share of the delinquency problem.

The clause following the "that" (male adolescents define the delinquency problem in the United States) is an independent clause. And no, it is not an apposition to "criminal justice." In the sentence, "scholars in criminal justice" are those people who study in the field of criminal justice, the experts in that field.

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Thanks. Now I see it's not that "an implicit consensus in criminal justice", but that "scholars in criminal justice". No wonder I was not able not understand. –  Jack Jun 26 '12 at 19:07

You wouldn't say "define AS the delinquency problem ...". The sentence is saying that "male adolescents define X". "Define" is a transitive verb. Male adolescents are doing the defining. The thing that they define is the delinquency problem. In this context, the writer is saying that the delinquency problem is mostly about male adolescents. Perhaps your confusion is over the use of the word "define". It's not that male adolescents are sitting around discussing the problem and inventing a definition. It's that male adolescents ARE the definition. It's like saying, "Happiness is a cuddly kitten." The kitten is what makes happiness. Here, the male adolescents are what make a delinquency problem.

If you put "as" in there, you would be saying that male adolescents are defining something else as the delinquency problem. That is, they are sitting around discussing the problem and this is the definition they came up with. But there is no something else in the sentence for this to be.

The sentence could have been reworded as, "Even as the number of females processed through juvenile courts climbs steadily, scholars in criminal justice define the delinquency problem in the United States as primarily about male adolescents." (This loses the "implicit concensus" but maybe you get the idea.)

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+1. Thank you for your answer. Yes, the word "define" is sort of confusing for me. Now I see. –  Jack Jun 26 '12 at 19:03

The That Clause ("that male adolescents define the delinquency problem in the United States") is the Complement of an "implicit consensus," not of "criminal justice."

You can call it a Noun Clause, and in your example it serves the function of a Noun Phrase Complement.

Although the two parts are separate, they can be understood this way:

"the implicit consensus that S + V remains among scholars"

or

"the implicit consensus that male adolescents define the delinquency problem in the US remains."

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+1 for "Noun Clause". –  Jack Jun 26 '12 at 19:08

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