"Before the war, you always think that it's not you that dies." - Ernest Hemmingway

I'm having trouble diagramming this sentence. My question is about the subordinate clause in bold. Is the extraposed that-clause("that dies") at the end the subject or an adjective of the subject?

When you un-extrapose it, would it be : "that it that dies is not you" or " that that(who) dies is not you."?

  • Far be it from me to criticise Hemingway but he could have written, "that it's not you who dies." That is equivalent to your, " that who dies is not you." – chasly - reinstate Monica Sep 6 '15 at 22:08
  • This isn't an extraposed that-clause; you can substitute who for that, which means it's a relative clause, not a complement clause. What it is is a Cleft transformation of You die, the same way It was Harry that brought red wine or It was red wine that Harry brought are Cleft transformations of Harry brought red wine – John Lawler Sep 7 '15 at 2:29

The first "that" is a complementizer which converts the following sentence into a nominal. This nominal is the object of "think".

Before the war, you always think [NP that S].

The S is a cleft sentence: "It's not you that dies." It's not really clear what the structure of cleft sentences is, but clearly "that dies" is a relative clause. See McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English for a discussion of the structure of clefts, or the Wikipedia entry for Cleft Sentence.

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There seem to be two questions here. The first is about diagramming the sentence. There are no good diagramming tools for the combox, but try inserting the following in the scaffolding of your choice for the subordinate clause, "that ... dies." which is the direct object of "think."

it (subject)
is (verb)
you (nominative complement)
that (relative pronoun modifying "you"; subject)
dies (verb)

The second question is about reversing the word order, which doesn't sound quite right in the second person without a complement:

You always think that you aren't who dies.


You always think that that you aren't the one that dies

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