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What part of a verb phrase is omitted in the following sentence?

Nearly a million people lived there, making do, as they always had [VP deletion], with candles, torches and lanterns.

At first, I thought the verb phrase omitted after "had" would be "lived" because "lived" is the main verb in a principal clause, and the indepedent clause which starts with "as" should be related to the principal clause.
So I was thinking that the sentence would be changed to

Nearly a million people lived there, making do, as they always had lived, with candles, torches and lanterns.

But after reading the entire paragraph, I came to think that the omitted participle might be "made," which indicates "make" in the participial clause "making do." --> so "as they always had made" I'm very confused now... I guess the commas are very crucial to understand this sentence.. Which one is parenthetical? "making do" or "as they always had"?
I really don't know what has been omitted after "as they always had." How can I parse the sentence? Is it so-called VP-deletion involved here in this sentence? Could the sentence be parsed differently depending on the context? Or there is only one answer?

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Is the implied deletion "made do"

Nearly a million people lived there, making do, as they always had [made do], with candles, torches and lanterns.

i.e. the "as" clause modifies what immediately precedes it. If it modified the main verb clause, which of course makes sense, it seems to need a new order so that the emphasis and rhythm confer meaning appropriately:

Nearly a million people lived there, as they always had lived, making do with candles, torches and lanterns.

seems better as it is the people - the subject - that have persisted rather than the implied consistency of how they coped - which probably is not what was "always" present.

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  • Your answer is really helpful! Thanks. :) I was thinking that if there was no comma before "as," the "as" clause would modify "making do." why do you think the write put a comma before "as"? I've learned that we usuallly do not put comma before subordinate conjunctions ...
    – cellardoor
    Jun 4 '15 at 6:32
  • English does not really consist of rules, but regularities. In this case I believe the comma is unnecessary but provides a rhythm that makes the sentence easier to read. Jun 4 '15 at 6:34
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I'm not sure why you are trying to misplace the "as they always had"? This phrase relates directly to "making do". You can't decide to move it around in the sentence and expect it to mean the same thing.

For most of human history, the phrase "light pollution" would have made no sense. Imagine walking toward London on a moonlit night around 1800, when it was Earth's most populous city. Nearly a million people lived there, making do, as they always had, with candles and rushlights and torches and lanterns. Only a few houses were lit by gas, and there would be no public gaslights in the streets or squares for another seven years.

From here, by the way... let's attribute our sources.

Let's take this sentence apart a bit:

Nearly a million people lived [in London]...

Statement. Complete thought. This could be a sentence of its own.

... making do [...] with candles and rushlights and torches and lanterns.

I've omitted the "as they always had" for clarity.

So far, so good.

as they always had

This refers directly to "making do". It's specifically saying that the people of London had always managed to survive in the city with the older light sources that are "candles and rushlights and torches and lanterns".

It's not saying that the million people of the 1800s have always lived in London... clearly, London hasn't always had a population of nearly a million and those people are not immortal.

Your reordering of the sentence:

Nearly a million people lived there, as they always live, making do with candles, torches and lanterns.

Does not mean the same thing as the sentence in the article.


So, to answer you question, what's missing is "made do".

... making do, as they always had [made do], ...

It's essentially an appositive. The section between the commas is non-essential information that further explains the section immediately proceeding it and can be removed without messing up the sentence.

You could say the same thing with many other topics:

The penguins ate fish, as they always have [eaten fish], for every meal.
My family went to the movies, as we always have [gone], on Thursdays.

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