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The text below is an excerpt from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/30/world/europe/netherlands-water-management-system-global-climate-change-sea-level-rise-dutch-gene.html?_r=0

Along a rugged, wide North Sea beach here on a recent day, children formed teams of eight to 10, taking their places beside mounds of sand carefully cordoned by candy-cane striped tape. They had one hour for their sand castle competition. Some built fishlike structures, complete with scales. Others spent their time on elaborate ditch and dike labyrinths. Each castle was adorned on top with a white flag.

Then they watched the sea invade and devour their work, seeing whose castle could withstand the tide longest. The last standing flag won.

Theirs was no ordinary day at the beach, but a newly minted, state-sanctioned competition for schoolchildren to raise awareness of the dangers of rising sea levels in a country of precarious geography that has provided lessons for the world about water management, but that fears that its next generation will grow complacent.

I didn't know a possessive pronoun can be used as a subject in a sentence, so I'm not able to figure out what the word "theirs" means. Is it "their day" or "their competition"? If a possesive pronoun is the subject of a sentence, does it have special meanings?

Does the first "but" in the 3rd paragraph refer to "but rather"?

What is the grammar structure of the last clause - but that fears that? It sounds rather peculiar. Which sort of clause is it?

Could someone please tell me? Thanks a lot.

closed as too broad by FumbleFingers, ab2, jimm101, curiousdannii, BiscuitBoy Feb 28 '16 at 15:32

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Theirs refers to a "day at the beach" – P. O. Feb 26 '16 at 17:12
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    There are just too many questions here. One thing at a time, please. The cited text is unbelievably clunky (in particular, the two separate occurrences of but, and the last two that's). – FumbleFingers Feb 26 '16 at 17:35
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the OP is asking too many questions in what should be one question. – ab2 Feb 28 '16 at 1:34
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The antecedent (or referent) for "theirs" at the beginning of the third paragraph is the same as it is for "they" in the preceding paragraph: the children.

To rephrase this:

Their day at the beach was no ordinary one, but a newly minted, state-sanctioned competition....

The "but" you highlight contrasts the typically fun activity of building sand castles with the lesson being taught to the children about rising sea levels. The point of the competition wasn't who can build the biggest or most aesthetically pleasing sand castle, but who could build the most practical, the one that lasted longest.

Let's break down that third "paragraph" out of one long, complex sentence into smaller ones to ease readability.

Theirs was no ordinary day at the beach. This was a newly minted, state-sanctioned competition for schoolchildren. The competition was intended to raise awareness of the dangers of rising sea levels in a country of precarious geography that has provided lessons for the world about water management. This same country fears that its next generation will grow complacent.

  • Thanks! Is "theirs" equivalent to "their day"? Could you please tell me what is the grammatical structure of the 3rd paragraph on the whole? – Jarl Feb 26 '16 at 17:21
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    @Jarl I recognized that I'd left one of your questions unanswered and edited my answer. Take a look and see if the edit helps. – Paul Rowe Feb 26 '16 at 17:27
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    A re-rendering of "theirs was no ordinary day at the beach" is "Their day at the beach was no ordinary one". – DJClayworth Feb 26 '16 at 17:38
  • Thank you for your detailed explanations. I see. In my opinion, the word "that" is not allowed to act as a relative word in a non-restrictive relative clause. It is, however, acceptable when it is used this way. – Jarl Feb 26 '16 at 17:39
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    @Jarl I went ahead and incorporated DJClayworth's rewording. – Paul Rowe Feb 26 '16 at 17:44

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