I'm reading an article titled The Myth of Main Street by David Opdyke in the New York Times. Below is one sentence from it I have a problem grasping:

And what better symbol of that blight than Main Street?

  1. Is "symbol" the verb here?

  2. As "Main Street" is noun singular, shouldn't "symbol" be "symbols"?

full article here

Thank you!

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  • 3
    Symbol is never a verb. This type of sentence as rhetorical question skips the verb on purpose: And what better symbol of that blight than Main Street [is there]? It is a literary-type style. – Lambie Apr 12 '17 at 16:01
  • This sentence no verb. – John Lawler Apr 12 '17 at 18:50

Symbol is never a verb. The verb would be symbolize.

This type of sentence is called a rhetorical question and the author, for some reason, has left the verb out on purpose: And what better symbol of that blight than Main Street [is there]? It is a literary-type style. The verb is implied.

The author is actually making the statement: There is no better symbol of that blight than Main Street.

symbol is singular as it refers to all of Main Street, or, everything on Main Street.

  • Arguably, it's not a sentence without a verb. 'And what better symbol of that blight is there than Main Street?' is the rhetorical question written as a sentence. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 12 '17 at 16:58
  • Arguably, the verb is implied as I showed. But I guess some people need eggs in their beer. – Lambie Apr 12 '17 at 18:38
  • There's no argument at all there: obviously the verb is implied. Just as it is in 'Where are you?' ... '[I am] here'. But calling a statement lacking a subject and verb a 'sentence' (even where easily retrievable) does give rise to dispute. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 12 '17 at 18:44
  • Whatever. It isn't a phrase, though, is it? I don't think it is disputable. Call it an utterance, then. But then, one is in the domain of speech. Nothing is good enough for you, is it? – Lambie Apr 12 '17 at 18:57
  • When you assume one definition of a term as basic as 'sentence' without explaining that visitors might meet another at least equally common one 'a sentence has a subject and a finite verb ...', I don't think you're doing visitors any favours. Also, 'This type of sentence is called a rhetorical question' could be interpreted as '... ie a sentence lacking a verb ... '. I strive for excellence. Don't you? – Edwin Ashworth Apr 12 '17 at 19:07

First, I don't think it's seful to address the issue in terms of rhetoric or rhetorical effects, which takes us away from the question of structure. An utterance can be rhetorical or not whether it's a phrase, sentences, grammatical or not.

This utterance has the subject-oriented emotive quality of an "exclamation"(as opposed to a other types of utterances -- question, declaration, command, etc.) and the missing verb or verb phrase is not so much missing as "hidden" or assumed, which makes this an elliptical expression, a structural characteristic that is typical of exclamations. This type of ellipsis speaks to the wonderful compactness of English. Compare: "What a nut case!" (This person is such a nut case), "How nice of you to help me!" (You are very nice to help me"). These two examples are not traditional "sentences" because both are missing a main verb marked for present or past tense; yet from a pragmatical standpoint, they are grammatical, as true utterances. In the utterance, "And what better symbol...than...", the speaker exclaims/marvels in an ellipsis that is expandable as "What can be a better symbol than..." As a final thought, I think beyond discourse concerning grade school literacy, we shouldn't be hung up with the traditional definition of a sentence.

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