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I'm trying to understand complex sentence-completion questions whilst preparing for the GRE examination. Here is one such sentence:

The demands of _____ and _____ notwithstanding, a page or two in Dahl's recent book on democracy that considered what public-choice economics has to say about "democratic failure" —or at least a clear signpost to that literature—would have been very well spent.

❑ clarity
❑ brevity
❑ comprehensiveness
❑ economy
❑ cogency
❑ thoroughness

What exactly does notwithstanding mean here? The definition of the word, according to Google is,

preposition

  1. in spite of.
    "notwithstanding the evidence, the consensus is that the jury will not reach a verdict"
    synonyms: in spite of, despite, regardless of, for all

    "notwithstanding his many activities, Alan finds time to be a dedicated husband and father"

I can understand the example given above because it reads just fine if you replace it with despite, but it still doesn't make sense to me in the question I posted.

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    Related, not necessarily duplicate: “How does 'X notwithstanding' = 'notwithstanding X'?”. – MetaEd Nov 13 '17 at 15:18
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    I think 'notwithstanding' is a very difficult term to grasp. For this reason, notwithstanding it's popularity amongst lawyers, I prefer to avoid it. – Strawberry Nov 13 '17 at 16:49
  • yeah.. the word twists me every-which way... but so would "despite" in this case. I want to say the answer is "brevity" but I'm conflicted and I usually think I'm pretty good at language usage ! To me, any of the words choices would basically raise the same issue to one degree or another with different emphasis. ... just like "speed", "fastness" and "slowness" "idle" all raise the same issue. – Tom22 Nov 13 '17 at 16:59
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    Think of it as: We know the demands of ______ are likely relevant but let’s ignore them right now.... – Jim Nov 13 '17 at 19:25
  • @Strawberry avoid it despite - or perhaps because of - its popularity among lawyers – TessellatingHeckler Nov 13 '17 at 20:05
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I'm not sure why you understand the google example but not your own quoted one. Is it the word order which is causing the confusion?

'Notwithstanding' can be used after the thing it refers to as well as in front of it. eg, the google sentence could as easily have been written:

"his many activities notwithstanding, Alan finds time to be a dedicated husband and father"

The Oxford English Dictionary describe this as the word being 'used postpositively' and gives this example sentence, among others.

The anxieties of Nato notwithstanding, it is difficult to see how the West can fail to benefit.

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    It was indeed the word order - I don't read a lot and so I've have never seen it used postpositively. Thank you for the answer. – rayanisran Nov 13 '17 at 16:16
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    @david In my experience, "notwithstanding" is actuallly more commonly used postpositively, while a more common word (e.g. "despite") is used if placed before the referenced term. – Kamil Drakari Nov 13 '17 at 16:49
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    @david Notwithstanding & synonyms are commonly termed "prepositions"—you can probably tell from the name that it's pretty rare for this kind of word to be used post-positionally in English, so it's not surprising that you would be thrown by it. There are a very few other words that are regularly used postpositionally: ago is pretty much only allowed that way ("three years ago", not "ago three years"), and some others are commonly used that way with certain senses ("three years hence", "joking aside", "worlds apart"). Notwithstanding is unusual in working both ways w/ the same meaning. – 1006a Nov 13 '17 at 17:26
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I would say the answer to your example question is brevity. Brevity refers to briefness or shortness. Something that demands brevity is required to be concise. However, the person in the question is basically complaining that the author (Dahl), though brief, did not explain himself clearly enough and would have done well to spend an extra page or two doing so. Your substitution is thus:

Despite demands of brevity, a page or two in Dahl's recent book on democracy that considered what public-choice economics has to say about "democratic failure" —or at least a clear signpost to that literature—would have been very well spent.

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Usually I can deconstruct a sentence like this by replacing the words In spite of or notwithstanding with even though or even still (with appropriate re-ordering) to clarify the meaning. Just as also and as well as can be used interchangeably.

I believe that 'brevity' and 'economy' are the correct choices in your sentence.

So I would restructure:

I know Dahl wanted to be to the point, and save money. Even still, he could have added 1 or 2 pages about ....

  • Hello, Elaine. According to these Google Ngrams, 'even so' is far more common than 'even still'. / I've re-formatted your answer. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 3 '18 at 12:27

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