A manuscript that lay unnoticed by scientists for decades has revealed that Albert Einstein once dabbled with an alternative to the Big Bang theory, proposing instead that the Universe expanded steadily and eternally.

  1. What is the subject for "proposing"? Is that "A manuscript" or "the Big Bang theory"? Is there a rule to distinguish?
  2. What does the word "instead" in this sentence mean? If I omit it, will I change the main idea of the sentence?


  • Isn't the subject for "proposing" actually "Albert Einstein"? Otherwise "instead" makes no sense at all. – Peter Shor Feb 26 '14 at 4:01
  • Oh yes! It should be! If only consider grammar, does "the Big Bang theory" get chance? – cht Feb 26 '14 at 4:07
  • Could u explain to me why u said it makes no sense? – cht Feb 26 '14 at 4:52
  • Because instead is an adverb that contrasts something to something else. The only things that can be contrasted to here are the Bib Bang theory and the Universe expanding steadily. Albert Einstein is the one who dabbled with the Big Bang Theory, so he must be the one who proposed the steady expansion of the Universe. – Peter Shor Feb 26 '14 at 11:59
  • @Peter: Surely the "subject" for proposing could just as easily be an alternative [theory]. Which interpretation would allow the possibility that this alternative theory was in fact advanced by someone other than Einstein. In which case Einstein's "dabbling with it" might simply mean that he read up on it or temporarily gave it credence, not developed it. That I think could be considered a credible reading with significantly different implications. One could certainly say Darwin "dabbled with Lamarckism", but he obviously didn't create that theory. – FumbleFingers Feb 26 '14 at 13:03

Proposing modifies alternative. A parallel construction would be

... an alternative to the Big Bang theory, which alternative instead proposes that the Universe expanded steadily and eternally.

Instead is an adverb that emphasizes the contrast between the the original concept and the substitute concept. Its omission would not change the sense of the sentence but it would sacrifice a little of the surprised tone.

There is a reasonable argument that proposing could grammatically modify manuscript. However, since the alternative is the substance of the manuscript, there is no semantic difference.

  • So can I infer from the sentence that the Big Bang theory holds that the Universe NOT expanded steadily and eternally. – cht Feb 26 '14 at 4:51
  • Of the three possible options for the subject of proposing - manuscript, Albert Einstein, or alternative, I think alternative is the least-likely given its embeddedness in a participle phrase in a subordinate clause. While there isn't any meaningful semantic difference, I think the other two alternatives make much more syntactic sense. – DallaLiyly Feb 26 '14 at 7:08
  • I think that might be a little different, since we don't know whether the manuscript is really writing by Albert Einstein. If the subject is manuscript, then we cannot make sure that it is Albert Einstein who propose, although this is most likely. In other words, if the subject is Albert Einstein, we can make sure that. – cht Feb 26 '14 at 7:37
  • @cht: yes, the sentence definitely tells you that de Big Bang theory does not hold that the universe behaves like that. Whatever the subject of "propose", the steady eternal expansion is an alternative to the BBT. – oerkelens Feb 26 '14 at 9:07

The subject may also be Albert Einstein:

Albert Einstein once dabbled with an alternative to the Big Bang theory, in which he was proposing + that-clause.

But it does not matter greatly, whether you see as subject Einstein or alternative.

As to a rule either such a shortened relative clause with participle refers to the last noun or if that makes no sense you have to decide by logic.

As such participle constructions can easily be unclear one should be careful when using them and make sure that the construction is unambiguous.


This word means literally "in the place of": In place of the Big Bang theory Einstein suggested another theory.

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