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Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation.

In this clip from Steve job's speech in Standford school, I wonder what is the part of "the closest"? Do I see it as the adjective, dropping the pronoun "one"?

I think it should be like this:

this is the closest one (that) I've ever gotten to a college graduation.

Right?

If that's the case, should I think "the closest" is basically the object of a verb "have gotten"?

Then, what is the meaning of "get" in here?

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    "the closest" is complement to subject. Just like hungry is in "I am hungry", or "this is the hungriest, I have ever been". Get in your context means to "become"/"been"/"come" – Born2Smile Sep 4 '15 at 0:12
  • What do you mean with "relative pronoun" in your headline? "the closest" is a superlative formula. – rogermue Sep 4 '15 at 5:20
  • @rogermue Yes, but it's modified by a relative clause, though. It's not unreasonable for us to look for a relative pronoun (even thought there isn't one!) :-) – Araucaria Sep 4 '15 at 8:39
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Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation.

Almost, but not quite. This sentence does indeed involve a relative clause. We could reconstruct the relative clause like this:

  • Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest that I've ever gotten to a college graduation.

The important thing about relative clauses is that they have a gap in them. The gap tells us where the missing element should be. So for example consider this sentence:

  • This is the man that [you saw yesterday].

This relative clause has a gap in it that tells you where the man would be in the clause:

  • This is the man that [you saw ___ yesterday].

Because our language brain knows where the gap is we can understand the sentence like this:

  • This is the man that [you saw the man yesterday].

The relative clause

It is not straightforward to understand exactly where the gap is here. This is because, as the Original Poster felt, we often associate relative clauses with a noun phrase antecedent. However, in this case the antecedent isn't a typical noun phrase. Here's where the gap is:

  • this is the closest that [I've ever gotten ____ to a college graduation]

We understand it like this:

  • this is the closest that [I've ever gotten close to a college graduation].

This sentence is unusual because it has a superlative adjective as an antecedent, not a noun or clause. The verb gotten her means something like come or been.

The grammatical function of closest

The Original Poster asks if the closest is the Object of the verb GET, in this case part of the perfect construction have gotten. The answer is, no. However, it has a function similar to an Object. Like an Object, it is a Complement of the verb. But it is a Predicative Complement, not an Object. Like Objects, Predicative Complements fill a special slot set up by the verb. They don't tell us what someone was doing something to though and they don't introduce a new entity into the sentence. Instead Predicative Complements tell us something about the Subject or Object of the sentence.

In this case, the phrase the closest that I've ever got to a college graduation is the Predicative Complement of the verb is. It describes the situation denoted by this. Notice that this is NOT an adverbial. It is not an extra part of the grammar in the sentence. It is not an extraneous addition to the meaning either. The sentence is quite simply ungrammatical without it:

*Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is. (ungrammatical with this meaning)

The verb BE cannot ever, ever take Objects, it can only take Predicative or Locative Complements.

  • You suggest, 'This is the closest that I've ever gotten close to a college graduation.' and that is how 'we' understand it. I disagree. I for one don't even understand what you intend it to mean. It is simply not an English sentence. – chasly from UK Sep 4 '15 at 9:54
  • @chasly no, quite right, it's not an English sentence because the gap in the relative clause has been filled in! The only point there is that the relative clause has a gap that is indexed with closest. So it's something along the lines of "Out of all the times that I've come close to a college graduation, this is the closest. (I Anglicised the gotten for you there). It's not perfect, but there you go! – Araucaria Sep 4 '15 at 10:09
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    Reading this again, I have a new insight - and a new answer. It's not far form your bolded clause. I'll be back! – chasly from UK Sep 4 '15 at 10:10
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Consider

This is closer than I've ever gotten to a college graduation.

Can we agree that in this sentence, closer is an adjective modifying I?

If we change "closer" to "the closest", I think we are still dealing with an adjective.

  • Have you gotten close to a college graduation, or have you gotten closely to a college graduation? Do you get hungry after hard work, or do you get hungrily from hard work? We can't agree; I think it's an adjective modifying I. – Peter Shor Sep 4 '15 at 20:19
  • @PeterShor - Oh! I think you're right. I will edit my answer. (Unless you want to write one, and then I'll delete mine.) – aparente001 Sep 4 '15 at 20:28
  • No. Go ahead and edit your answer. – Peter Shor Sep 4 '15 at 20:48

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