"Every English-speaking country is extremely sheepish towards mega-corporations and their puppet-governments. In continental Europe, France being an example, people stand up for their rights and protest, violently if needed, on the streets."

The little phrase "France being an example" is for a non-native English user very hard to categorise. I believe it's an appositive phrase, but I wonder which one: participle phrase, gerund phrase or noun phrase? If I have to guess I would say it's a noun phrase with 'being' being a present participle modifying 'France'.

Or am I completely wrong in this?

  • 3
    It's worth considering that for native speakers it might if anything be even harder, considering that a lot of native speakers wouldn't even kow what those terms meant, having learnt the language in a less analytical way, and not all of them sharing the interest in the mechanics that would be found here.
    – Jon Hanna
    May 30 '13 at 11:45
  • Yes, it's an appositive phrase, like you would use a parenthesis.
    – Quidam
    Oct 19 '19 at 2:48

France being an example is one of the many ways that English has of tagging an example of a general phenomenon. Giving examples is the principal way writers identify what they're referring to by a general term like continental Europe.

First, in speech, France being an example, and all the other variants below, are pronounced with a distinctly lower intonation -- "flatted", as a musician might say -- and often at a lower volume. This is typical of presupposed material. But such intonation is not easily represented in spelling, so commas may not be the optimal strategy here.

Rhetorical directions like this are often called parenthetical, and indeed parentheses work just fine here (in fact, better than commas, in my opinion):

  • In continental Europe (France being an example) people ...

as do dashes:

  • In continental Europe -- France being an example -- people ...

In terms of grammar, yes, being is the present active participle of be, appearing here as an alternate untensed form of the is that appears in the tensed fixed parenthetical clause with the same function:

  • In continental Europe (France is an example) people ...

These clauses can be, and usually are, reduced even further to fixed preposition phrases with the same function and meaning (but with significantly different syntax):

  • In continental Europe (France, for example/instance) people ...
  • In continental Europe (for example/instance, France) people ...

(Be, after all, has no meaning; it's just part of the machinery for assembling sentences)

These phrases and clauses are all idiomatic, all fixed in pronunciation and intonation, and all about the same length. They all have the same function, but each has slightly different syntax and rhythm, so good writing practice is to vary them.

This kind of variation in phraseology is about all that English can offer a writer to make up for the fact that English orthography sucks.

  • 2
    I don't have any problem recognising the significance of both alternative typefaces in your "Be, after all, has no meaning", and that would still be the case if you'd reversed them. But it makes my head spin if I try to imagine reading any significant amount of text where the font size or greyscaling, say, continuously varied according to the pitch or volume you'd expect in spoken output. Continuity of typeface is a bit like railway tracks - it may restrict where we can go and how we can get there, but it generally makes for a smoother, faster journey. May 29 '13 at 19:06
  • That is the problem, isn't it? And people vary quite a lot in how they react to type, print, and variations. Take a look at 19th-century newspapers or books. Everybody reads differently, just like they drive differently or garden differently; it's a technical skill learned by practice like any other, and some are more proficient than others. May 29 '13 at 21:15

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