I am reading the latest Time magazine, how should the structure of the following sentence be analyzed?

Taken together, their stories tell not only of the tragedies and rare triumphs of that day but also of the tumultuous decade that followed.

I understand the meaning of this sentence, but I am not sure about the grammar.

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    Something roughly like this? :P (Lots of things left out, labels wrong, but I was just having fun.) – tdhsmith Sep 10 '11 at 5:53
  • Should it be tagged with "grammaticality"? – Peter Mortensen Sep 10 '11 at 7:57
  • 1
    @lettuce_pants: Cool, why don't you put this in an actual Answer? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Sep 10 '11 at 14:10

Basic subject/predicate: their stories tell

“Taken together” is an adjectival phrase that modifies “their stories”, indicating that the stories as a lump sum give insight that one could not get by reading only one or a few of the stories.

tell not only of the tragedies and rare triumphs of the day....:

This is a bit tricky; I would suggest that this is an object complement, with an implied direct object, “a story”. With the object included, it would read like this:

tell not only [a story] of the tragedies and rare triumphs...

The rest of this (“and rare triumphs”, etc) are just standard conjunctive and adverbial phrases completing the thought, like the following paraphrase:

(This compendium of individual accounts) does not merely tell about the individual struggles, losses and victories during the immediate time period....

but also of the tumultuous decade that followed.

Correlative conjunction continuation following “not only”: what may seem more tricky, though, is that this is also the second part of the object complement “tell [a story]...of the tumultuous decade ahead”.

  • +a bunch if you diagram this :) – ect Sep 10 '11 at 5:31
  • I'll give it a go, but...haven't ever used a vector graphix program before.... – Kyle Pearson Sep 10 '11 at 5:49
  • I didn't see these comments but I made a vaguely-similar analysis into a tree diagram up top. This site is useful for fast drawing, if you know bracket notation. – tdhsmith Sep 10 '11 at 5:57
  • Also I would argue that "tell of" is a valid combination without implying "a story" in between. "My grandpa told us of the Great Depression" doesn't feel like it implies anything to me. Something like this tree, (simplified from the last). – tdhsmith Sep 10 '11 at 6:08
  • If you want to take "tell of" as a phrasal verb, then fine; but marking me down for a perfectly legitimate explanation is rather bad form. In an instance such as this, there are no hard-and-fast rules for how to interpret this structure. – Kyle Pearson Sep 10 '11 at 6:26

I think this is a curious, and in my opinion, rather awkward structure. Here is the basic analysis:

It is a sentence with two clauses:

Taken together, their stories tell not only of the tragedies and rare triumphs of that day...

The subject is “Taken together, their stories...” It has “stories” as the main noun with two adjectival qualifiers “taken together”, and “their”.

The verb is obviously “tell”, however in this first clause the verb is qualified with two adverbs – not and only. Also it is the form “tell of” indicating that the stories contain the information (cf “Tell me” and “tell of me”.)

The object is pretty straightforward: “the tragedies and rare triumphs” with a genitive to qualify which tragedies and triumphs: “of that day”.

However, there is also a second clause in this sentence where the verb is omitted by ellipsis. Specifically:

... but [the stories] also [tell] of the tumultuous decade that followed.

This clause is pretty straightforward when the ellipses are provided.

  • I don't think "not only" applies to "tell". It looks like a correlative construction, like "either...or...". – siride Sep 10 '11 at 22:50

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