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Is this statement correct? -

However catastrophic the physical abuse, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.

Does the first part of the sentence before the comma need the verb "was"?

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    No, it doesn't need, and a was there could change the tone and tenor of the sentence. Why do you think a was may be needed? – Kris Jul 28 '14 at 9:25
  • Btw, how do you understand however in the sentence? – Kris Jul 28 '14 at 9:26
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    @Kris Indeed, the correct construction of the sentence depends on the proper understanding of however. – Manish Giri Jul 28 '14 at 9:32
  • I would only be tempted to read However the wrong way here, as meaning nonetheless, if it were postpositive, that is, embedded between commas somewhere after the start of its clause. Chalk one up for the good old Strunk and White rule on that. – Brian Donovan Jul 28 '14 at 11:11
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    I read the first phrase as an absolute, equivalent to saying Regardless of how catastrophic the physical abuse might have been. The was is unnecessary here and may be unsuitable elsewhere. – choster Jul 28 '14 at 18:52
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In answer to the question in the OP's headline, yes there is an implied verb in the phrase "However catastrophic the physical abuse"—and since it is implied, it is of course missing. But conceding that the phrase omits an implied verb isn't the same as saying that the author erred in omitting it.

Given that the next part of the sentence uses the verbs "came" and "had been hurled," I think we can safely discard many of the possible verbs suggested by Hans Adler in his answer. I also think that the gist of the opening phrase is all we need to understand in order to make sense of the sentence as a whole: Trying to ascertain whether the precise verb or verb phrase that the author had in mind was "might have been" or "may have been," for example, simply isn't worth the effort.

The larger point is simply that, in the author's view, the metaphorical scars from the verbal abuse that "they" suffered lasted longer and thus were in some sense more difficult to get beyond than the actual scars from the physical abuse that they endured—even if the degree of physical abuse involved was highly catastrophic.

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A verb is definitely not needed here, though it could be added without changing the meaning. The part before the comma is a (conditional) subordinate clause, coordinated with the main clause by the conjunction however. It is here used in the sense regardless [of] how, no matter how, irrespective of how, ....

Only the verb be can be dropped in this way from certain subordinate clauses, but then it can be dropped in all tenses and aspects. If we want to add it, we have many options that all differ in meaning:

  • However catastrophic the physical abuse is, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse was, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse has been, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse used to be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse had been, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse will be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse would be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse is going to be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse was going to be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse may be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse may have been, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.
  • However catastrophic the physical abuse may have been going to be, the lasting scars came from the verbal insults that had been hurled at them.

If we want to restore the omitted verb, we need more information than the sentence currently provides to pick the right one. Omitting be in this way is shorter, moves attention other, perhaps more important parts of the sentence, and can be used to express uncertainty or even to be ambiguous.

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The opening phrase here, "However catastrophic the physical abuse," can be considered a dependent clause. Its full meaning depends upon the rest of the sentence, which can stand alone without it (although the dependent clause adds deeper meaning). Dependent clauses do not need verbs to be stated, though the verb may be implied in the wording.

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The first clause doesn't need a verb. A 'to be' verb is implied, as it presumes the existence of physical abuse, but, as the first clause depends on the second for meaning, and is therefor dependent on the second clause (as Susan Tuttle said), it doesn't require a verb.

As to why it has no verb:

You could add a verb without altering the meaning, but it would shift the emphasis away from the "verbal insults". On their own, However Clauses can't stand alone, as you're comparing, contrasting, or examining the causality between to statements when you use "however". The use, or not, of a verb merely serves to define where the emphasis lies. By including a verb the However Clause gains weight, and by excluding it the clause it is dependent upon gains weight. I would also add that, while the However Clause with a verb can be an independent sentence, it still relies on additional information from outside the sentence to make sense, and therefore depends on that information.

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