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I have some questions about the sentence below.

  1. Why is there a comma before "that"?

  2. Next, if we say "But of all relations" the verb of this sentence should be plural. So, why is there "was sure" in the sentence instead of "were sure"?

But of all relations, that between men and women, being the nearest and most intimate, and connected with the greatest number of strong emotions, was sure to be the last to throw off the old rule, and receive the new; for, in proportion to the strength of a feeling is the tenacity with which it clings to the forms and circumstances with which it has even accidentally become associated. . . .

(The Enfranchisement of Women, Harriet Taylor Mill)

  • Speaking of commas, there probably shouldn't be one after "the old rule," since "receive the new" is a dependent clause, and there probably doesn't have to be one after "for" either: "for in proportion to the strength of a feeling..." – RaceYouAnytime Apr 24 '17 at 20:10
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    @RaceYouAnytime: It's from 1851. They used a different style of writing back then, with longer sentences and more use of commas. – herisson Apr 24 '17 at 22:15
  • @sumelic Ah, fair point, I'm not familiar with the work and was only thinking with my contemporary proofreading hat on. Thanks. – RaceYouAnytime Apr 24 '17 at 22:21
  • With or without the comma is it not true that relations are, for instance, brothers or sisters while interactions between men and women are relationships? – Robbie Goodwin May 16 '17 at 20:13
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In this case, But of all relations is a subordinate clause describing the actual subject of the sentence, which is "that."

The author is referring to the relation between men and women. Since "that," referring to "the relation between men and women," is singular, you say that it was sure to be...

The relation between men and women was sure to be...

However, this writing does use parenthetical and subordinate clauses at the expense of clarity, and would probably be better off split into multiple sentences.

All these clauses modify or describe "the relation between men and women":

of all relations

being the nearest and most intimate

connected with the greatest number of strong emotions

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