At the time Malthus was writing, the world's population was under a billion, but the onset of the Industrial Revolution set in train a remarkable swelling of human numbers to more than 3 billion by the 1960s -- with no sign of any global Malthusian catastrophe.

In the above paragraph, I can't parse the sentence that I've shown in bold. Which is the subject and which is the verb? And what does that sentence mean?

closed as off-topic by Drew, NVZ, tchrist Sep 3 '16 at 17:11

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  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! This site strives to provide well researched, intriguing questions. Take the site tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good questions. You might find your question fitting better in at our sister site for English Language Learners. – Helmar Sep 3 '16 at 10:33
  • Yes. As you kindly advised me, I found that site and asked there as well. Thank you! – Joe K. Sep 3 '16 at 14:10
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because its exact duplicate was also posted to English Language Learners. – tchrist Sep 3 '16 at 17:11

The question refers not to a sentence but a clause. The difference being that a clause is separated from the previous part of the sentence by a comma, semi colon or colon rather than a full stop and the conjunction ('but' in this case) starts with a lower case letter.

Having said that clauses have the same structure as sentences and can be parsed.

  • The subject is the phrase "the onset of the Industrial Revolution"
  • The verb is the phrase "set in train"
  • The object is the rest of the clause

The difficulty you had, I think, is that all the parts of the clause are phrases, two of the phrases are long and complicated, and you did not recognise 'set in train' as a verb. See this link for a definition of 'set in train' http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/set-something-in-train

  • You correctly pointed out what I didn't know. The problem was "set in train". I didn't know its meaning. Thank you for explaining in such detail. :) But I wonder why "set in train" means "to make something start to happen".. – Joe K. Sep 3 '16 at 14:33

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