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It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition. (Source)

Can someone analyze this sentence?

My first thought was that the infinitive 'to keep' modifies possible, but then I started to doubt myself because if you make the infinitive the subject, the sentence has the same meaning. You can say "to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition is not possible".

What say you?

  • I'd say of acquisition modifies preceding of the normal tides, which in turn modifies preceding abreast, which in turn modifies preceding to keep, which in turn modifies preceding possible (modified by not). But what do I know? – FumbleFingers Aug 23 '15 at 16:33
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It might by easier to think of "keep abreast of" as a verbal phrase which is syntactically similar to (but not equivalent to) "monitor"

"It is not possible to monitor the normal tides of acquisition."

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"It is not possible to keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition."

not [S [NP [S unspecified keep abreast of the normal tides of acquisition ] ] is possible ]

That is, it is the negation of a sentence whose predicate is "is possible" and whose subject is the sentence "unspecified keep ...". The sentential subject has the "for-to" complementizer, but the "for" is lost since the subject of the sentence it goes with is unspecified. The sentential subject is extraposed to the end of its clause and replaced by "it" in its original position.

  • Right. Extraposition is a suspect in most sentences beginning with it and ending in a long clause or phrase. The giveaway is that the initial it doesn't refer to any neuter noun, but just reflects back to the final clause. – John Lawler Aug 23 '15 at 18:47

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