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I have a quick question that I hope you can help with.

I'm looking at the sentence 'Simon found it extremely difficult to compete with the bigger children even after gaining the uphill advantage.'

Now I'm fairly certain that 'even after gaining the uphill advantage' is a dependent clause with 'gaining' as the verb but I can't work out if the remainder of the sentence is two clauses the first of which being 'Simon found it' or if it is one with 'extremely difficult to compete' acting as a noun phrase.

I'm all tied in knots,

Please can someone help/explain.

Thanks so much!

  • The main verb is clearly found. The it is one of those convenient its - I forgotten the name for them- but they refer to nothing at all and are only there for convenience. So my guess is that Simon found it extremely difficult to compete is all one main clause. – WS2 Oct 11 '15 at 9:04
  • Try analyzing the sentence with a reduced relative clause "[that] it [was] extremely difficult to compete...." – deadrat Oct 11 '15 at 9:25
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A. Simon found it extremely difficult to compete with the bigger children.

The first thing to do is to work out what 'it' refers to. In fact it refers to the clause, "to compete with the bigger children, even after gaining the uphill advantage"

Here is a rewrite with that substitution made:

B. Simon found to compete with the bigger children, even after gaining the uphill advantage, extremely difficult.

It would be more idiomatic to say it with a gerund rather than an infinitive as follows:

C. Simon found competing with the bigger children, even after gaining the uphill advantage, extremely difficult.

However whichever of B and C you use, they are both clumsy. The sentence is easier to read when you invert it and substitute 'it'.

There is another form that works:

D. Simon found competing with the bigger children extremely difficult, even after gaining the uphill advantage.

The important difference between A and D is one of emphasis. Instead of emphasising 'difficult' as in the original, D emphasises 'competing'.


The second thing to do, now that we know what 'it' is, is to ignore the rest of the sentence.

We just need to analyse, "A found B difficult".

(Note that there is a deletion here. The full version would be: "A found B to be difficult")

A is the subject

'found' is the transitive verb

B is the direct object

C 'difficult' is an adjective qualifying B.

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  • I'm afraid I find this explanation misleading. You've analyzed equivalent rephrasings of the OP's sentence. The direct object of found is the reduced relative clause "[that] it [was] difficult to compete." It is not so much a reference as a dummy subject. – deadrat Oct 11 '15 at 10:21
  • What's not clear about "reduced relative clause"? – deadrat Oct 11 '15 at 10:33
  • My rephrasing, particularly the first, was simply an inversion. Your rephrasing, "[that] it [was] difficult to compete." is unjustified. In fact it is not a rephrasing - it is a rewrite. – chasly - supports Monica Oct 11 '15 at 10:35
  • Funny, that's what I think about your rephrasings. A reduced relative clause exhibits a standard ellipsis of the relative pronoun and possibly a form of the verb "to be." – deadrat Oct 11 '15 at 10:39
  • In that case, submit an answer and let the community decide by up or downvoting. By the way I mentioned the deletion of 'to be' in parenthesis. – chasly - supports Monica Oct 11 '15 at 10:40
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I believe that the best way to analyze the sentence

Simon found it extremely difficult to compete with the bigger children

is to consider that the direct object of found is a reduced relative clause with the standard ellipsis of the relative pronoun that and a form of the verb "to be"

[that] it [was] extremely difficult to compete ...

In this case, it is a dummy subject of the clause.

An alternate analysis makes it the direct object of "found" and makes "difficult" the objective complement, along the lines of

They called her presidential.

or

They deemed him clever.

This works with verbs of selection and classification, which may somewhat fit found here. With the meaning of found as "discovered," not so much.

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  • I see your final point as working in support of my answer! Compare these two sentences (A) Simon found it extremely difficult to compete with the bigger children. (B) Simon deemed it extremely tiresome to compete with the bigger children. I see the parallel structures as being significant -- not coincidental. The similarity supports my contention that 'it' is the object of a verb not a subject. – chasly - supports Monica Oct 11 '15 at 12:18
  • @chaslyfromUK "Not so much." – deadrat Oct 11 '15 at 23:09

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