In the following sentence there is no verb to be after the subject and before the predicate:

Indeed this government - neither their great wealth nor their many supporters will benefit them on election day; they will fail.

As a native speaker this sounds good to me. But there is no verb to be between the subject this government and the predicate sentence beginning with neither.

Therefore, is this sentence ungrammatical? If not, how do I explain it in terms of subject and predicate?

How do I justify the sentence grammatically?

  • 2
    I've read it over quite a few times now and I can't seem to figure out how the sentence is broken up. I'm thinking it's ungrammatical. – Adam May 11 '15 at 8:44
  • The problem is that "government" is not**t he subject of the first part, as you claim; it is the object of "benefit" (although reversed, and represented by pronoun "them" in "benefit them". Then, at the end, it suddenly changes into a subject, representent by the nominative pronoun "they". So it's an object/subject swithcheroo that makes the sentence ungrammatical. Either that, or "they will fail" refers to the wealth and the supporters. (If it's BrE, "government" can be "they"; in AmE, it would be "it".) – Brian Hitchcock May 11 '15 at 10:06
  • 1
    It's a topic/comment construction with weird punctuation. – bye May 11 '15 at 10:07
  • 2
    Nicholas, what makes you think that a "be" verb was left out? Where would you put it? – Brian Hitchcock May 11 '15 at 10:14
  • I'm just assuming this government is the subject. I wouldn't use the verb to be at all - even though it sounds OK to me. Sounds grammatical. – nicholas ainsworth May 11 '15 at 10:22

The Original Poster's sentence is badly punctuated, but entirely grammatical.

Indeed this government - neither their great wealth nor their many supporters will benefit them on election day; they will fail.

This sentence looks very much as though it has this government for a subject. Beware! This is, in fact, not the case. Let's simplify the sentence, investigate it and put it all back together again.

The string of words running neither their great .... election day is parenthetical. This means that it is not integrated into the grammar of the main clause. It is like an aside by the author. The fact that it is parenthetical is shown by the fact that we could literally put it in brackets or dashes:

  • Indeed, this government (neither their great wealth nor their many supporters will benefit them on election day), they will fail.

Or we could even leave this whole section out altogether:

  • Indeed, this government, they will fail.

Now, the sentence above is a bit easier to get to grips with. Notice that that word indeed is an adjunct. It links back to something that was said in a previous sentence and emphasises that what is coming up next is emphatically true. Being an adjunct this word is not integrated into the main clause either. This leaves us with:

  • This government, they will fail.

Now, this sentence has the same kind of structure as:

  • Bob, he's a great guy.

As mentioned above, it's tempting to think that This government or Bob are the subjects of these sentences -but they aren't. Notice that these phrases can come at the end of the sentence as easily as the beginning:

  • They will fail, this government
  • He's a great guy, Bob.

We can also turn these sentences into yes/no questions. The phrases that invert with the auxiliary verbs will be the subjects:

  • This government, will they fail?
  • Bob, is he a great guy?

Notice as well that both sentences are well-formed without the phrases this government or Bob. This shows, firstly, that they and not this government is the subject of the Original Poster's question. Secondly, it also shows that this government is also an Adjunct in the sentence. It doesn't form part of its essential structure.

The sentence therefore has a subject they, whose predicate is ostensibly will fail. It has three parenthetical elements which are not integrated into the clause structure:

  • indeed
  • the government
  • neither their great wealth nor their many supporters will benefit them on election day

This last element has the structure of a complete sentence which has been interpolated into the main one. It, too, is well formed. It has a co-ordinated subject neither their great wealth nor their many supporters and a predicate will benefit them on election day.

Note: Notice that it would be easy to confuse this sentence with one such as:

  • This government is neither their great wealth nor their many supporters ...

In the sentence above, which seeks to differentiate the government from their supporters or their financial reserves, the phrase the government would be the subject and the string beginning is neither would be the predicate.

| improve this answer | |
  • I wouldn’t say it’s a parenthetical element at all. There are three separate sentences here, the first one being cut off midway. All three are dispensible, but all three add to the information given. You could just as well say, “Indeed, this government… Neither their great wealth nor their many supporters with benefit them on election day”. Or indeed remove “Indeed, this government…” from the start. The only thing that makes this hard to parse for me is the pronoun. They sounds odd to me here, for whatever reason. When I first read it, I instinctively thought ‘they’ were someone else. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 11 '15 at 15:58
  • I wouldn't use they as the pronoun for this government, I'd say it will fail. – Barmar May 11 '15 at 16:14
  • 1
    +1. Great explanation! I agree; it seems to be a convoluted left-dislocation construction. – F.E. May 11 '15 at 17:59
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I'd agree that it could be two sentences, with "this government" being a topic for the first - at a strectch. However, the fact that the author wanted to punctuate the whole lot as one sentence makes it seem more likely, imo, that the neither ... day bit is parenthetical. – Araucaria - Not here any more. May 11 '15 at 19:00
  • I’m not sure the author did want to punctuate it as one sentence, though. A dash (like ellipses) can be used to show a broken-off sentence turning into a different one halfway through. I’d say the pronoun clash is at least circumstantial evidence that it was thought of as two sentences. I have no problem using they when referring to a government, but like @Barmar, I’d never use it as the actual anaphor of ‘this government’ in the same sentence. I suspect the pronoun clash it what makes me read it as separate sentences with sub-ideal punctuation. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 11 '15 at 19:07

This is, as mentioned above, an awkward construction; certainly, I wouldn't write it that way.

  1. I feel the initial phrase is missing a comma. "Indeed, this government..."
  2. "This government" is the referent/antecedent for the pronouns in the remainder of the sentence.

If I had heard someone say this and were trying to take it as dictation verbatim, I might come up with the following.

Indeed! This government! Neither their great wealth nor their many supporters will benefit them on election day. They will fail.

The first two sentences are fragments, yes, but now you can practically hear the exasperation of the speaker. Giving the sentence a full stop (a period instead of a semicolon) emphasizes the speaker's exasperation.

| improve this answer | |
  • Well, that’s one interpretation—naturally, what the first part actually implies would depend entirely on the context. When reading it, I imagined it to be more along the lines of, “Of course, having money and a hardcore base of supporters is no guarantee of political success. Indeed, just take this [current] government: neither their great wealth nor their many supporters will benefit them on election day; they will fail”, with no exasperation at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 11 '15 at 16:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.