This challenges the very essence of who Americans are as a people.

What does "of who Americans" mean?
This sentence originates from the newspaper The Economist.

  • I am confused about the word "who". I can figure out it is an attributive clause, but I could not understand why "who" is put before "Americans". – Emily Oct 14 '16 at 14:35
  • 2
    You parse it wrong, it might help if read it this way "this challenges" --what is challenged? : " the very essence of something" --the essence of what thing? : "of who we are" --what's the "we" standing for? "Americans".= "the very essence of who Americans are" – P. O. Oct 14 '16 at 14:37
  • Compare 'What is your understanding of what angels are?' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 14 '16 at 21:56

The way to understand the sentence is this.

The object of the sentence is "who Americans are", a phrase similar to "who I am", and meaning 'the identify of Americans'.

Specifically it is "who Americans are as a people", i.e. the American national identity.More specifically it is "the very essence" of that, i.e. the fundamental nature of American identity.

'This' (whatever it is) challenges that.

  • how to understand the word "who" – Emily Oct 14 '16 at 14:53
  • "who Americans are" means the identify of Americans. Another example might be "I support Manchester united. That is who I am". – DJClayworth Oct 14 '16 at 14:57
  • who Americans are . is similar to who I am. I got it, thanks! – Emily Oct 14 '16 at 15:05

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