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I came across the following expression:

The primary task of many American troops in Baghdad has been to search for weapons and bands of pro-Hussein fighters still holding out.

This is from a newspaper called The Japan Times, which is published in Japan.

I don't understand the structure of the bold part.

  1. Is "holding out" a gerund?
  2. If so, is "pro-Hussein fighters" its semantic subject?
  3. Then, how is this sentence different from "weapons and bands which/that pro-Hussein fighters still hold out"?
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The rephrase would actually be 'for weapons, and for bands of pro-Hussein fighters still holding out'. – TimLymington Sep 27 '12 at 9:34

To hold out here means ‘to maintain resistance, remain unsubdued; to continue, endure, persist, last.’ Holding out is the non-finite -ing form of the verb. A paraphrase would be ‘pro-Hussein fighters who continue to offer resistance.’

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Thank you. But I want to know the grammatical structure of this sentence. I think that its underlying structure is "pro-Hussein fighters still hold out weapons and bands". If this sentence has the paraphrase as you suggest, what is the structure after "search for"? – foolnloof Sep 27 '12 at 6:28
No, they are not holding out weapons and bands. ‘Hold out’ in this sense is intransitive. ‘Weapons and bands’ is the object of ‘search for’, post-modified by ‘of pro-Hussein fighters still holding out’. – Barrie England Sep 27 '12 at 6:33
Thank you very much again. Is it possible to modify a noun (phrase) in the way like that? "-ing" is the (present) participle? What does this "of" mean? Is there any other example of this "of"? Is the structure "of + Semantic Subject + Participle"? – foolnloof Sep 27 '12 at 6:43
Yes, it happens all the time. ‘Lots of people speaking’, ‘crowds of people cheering’, ‘teams of footballers playing’ . . . – Barrie England Sep 27 '12 at 7:01
. . . and a partridge in a pear tree. – StoneyB Sep 27 '12 at 10:39

The boldfaced part is a noun phrase with a reduced relative clause. It's another case of Whiz-deletion. The original was something like

  • ... bands of pro-Hussein fighters who/which/that are still holding out.

where Whiz-deletion, as is its wont, deleted the boldfaced part -- the Wh-word subject of the relative clause, and the auxiliary be of the progressive construction that follows it. This is very normal behavior for English.

So, in order, the questions:

  1. Holding out is not a gerund; rather, it's what's left of the progressive construction after are got deleted, namely the present active participle (the -ing form) of the intransitive phrasal verb hold out.
  2. The subject of (are) holding out is who/which/that, which got deleted. This relative pronoun, however, is coreferential to its antecedent, pro-Hussein fighters, so it means the same. But the (deleted) relative pronoun is the real subject of the relative clause.
  3. This sentence is not different from a full, untransformed relative clause. It's just that English often deletes predictable syntactic markers to make things shorter; they mean the same and they work the same. Generally the full clauses are considered somewhat more formal, but not always.
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Thank you very much! I got it. – foolnloof Sep 27 '12 at 15:56

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