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Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong.

its context:economist

Grammatically,you need to have " clues to which..." and " to which... belong ". So is "to" double duty here?

Or it should have been:

Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to.

Do you think it is acceptable or the writer made a mistake?

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    Similar: english.stackexchange.com/q/55126/191178 – Laurel Nov 3 '19 at 2:57
  • No,I think they are different. In this case, "to" goes with "clues",as in "clues to".So there should be an additional "to" before "which" or after "belong" – Robby zhu Nov 3 '19 at 3:09
  • It's an error: "which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to" is a subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question) where the meaning is "Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues to the answer to the question 'Which category do ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to?'" – BillJ Nov 3 '19 at 9:49
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    Please do not try and second guess The Economist. There is no better English-language news magazine in the world even though it is too conservative for my taste. It has the best writers and editors in the entire English-speaking world. – Lambie Nov 3 '19 at 17:03
  • @Lambie That's hyperbole. The economist is pretty good, but by nomeans infallible. They used to give Geoff Pullum ample opportunity to rib them in the THES. BillJ is right here, and you and the economist are wrong. If you think the to there has been pied-piped, try moving it back to the end of the sentence. You'll note the result is ungrammatical. Why did they end up in this mess? The dumbass policy of not ending a sentence with a preposition. It's always that that gets them, or avoiding "split infinitives". – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 3 '19 at 23:17
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Bill J wrote:

It's an error: "which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to" is a subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question) where the meaning is "Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues to the answer to the question 'Which category do ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to?'

  • There is no embedded question at all. There is provide clues and belong to a category. And, of course, "Please state which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to" = "Please state to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong". to which and which x does y belong to are semantically and grammatically equivalent. There is "no clues to" – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 15:50
  • @Lambie So, in your opinion, what kind of phrase is 'to which category they belong', which you believe is a constituent in the original sentence, if it is not an interrogative clause? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 4 '19 at 16:22
  • to which they belong is a preposition followed by a relative pronoun and clause. These structures are typical in formal English: They man with whom they spoke. As opposed to informal or spoken English: The man they spoke to. – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 16:48
  • @Lambie That would normlly be considered a relative clause. But that interpretation isn't available here, because ultraexpensve carmakers can't be conceived of as belonging to the category clue! [However, that would be entriely grammatical, and maybe that's why the sentence kind of sounds ok ..., even though that' not what's meant] – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 4 '19 at 16:51
  • How many times do I have to say it? There is no "clues to something". I find clues. [no to]. I find clues to which you object. That is exactly the same structure here. Your interpretation regarding a mistake is based on the idea that this should be: clues to [some thing]. That is not the case here. There is no noun after to, because the clause is: to which [blah blah blah] belong. – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 16:53
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Clues and prepositions

Let’s look at some examples of the use of clue/s from the [Cambridge Dictionary on-line]:

The police tried to reconstruct the crime using…clues that they had found. [No preposition]

The police found a vital clue to the girl's disappearance… [Preposition, to]

He pored over the letter searching for clues about the writer. [Preposition, about]

Let’s change the preposition

So, as clue can take about as an alternative to the preposition to, we can exchange the prepositions to get a clearer idea of the role of to in the sentence without changing either the meaning or the grammatical structure:

Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues about which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong.

Here the clues are about “which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong”.

But surely “ultra-expensive carmarkers really belong to a category”.

If so, it would appear that the journalist writing in the Economist made a mistake.

How awful! I once made one myself.

  • Just because clues can take the prepositions to, about, on does not at all mean that here it is: "clues to [noun]". The police found some vital clues. They belonged to various categories. The vital clues found by police belonged to several categories. The OP's is: clues to which category they belong. – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 16:31
  • @Lambie — I initially thought you right as the two "tos" sounds clumsy (and I certainly haven't downvoted your answer), but I cannot see my way through the following: "Clues to X", X="which category they belong". Is X grammatical — can you have belong and category without a preposition? If, for example, you make X into a sentence by adding "do" — "Which category do they belong" it lacks the preposition "to". (I appreciate you can use belong without a preposition — I do not feel I belong here, take me back to SE Biology. But that is not what we have here.) – David Nov 4 '19 at 17:07
  • David, please, bear with me: You cannot see your way through: "Clues to X", X="which category they belong" because the parse is: |provide clues| + "to which strand the DNA belongs"(Is my biology right?) :) – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 17:14
  • @Lambie — One might quibble with the Biology, but it is not important in this context. The problem remains the same: euphony gives one answer, analysis gives another. It would be good if some other grammarians weighed in on this. I’m prepared to be proved wrong. – David Nov 4 '19 at 19:31
  • My joke about biology was to show (you) that the structure of my sentence and the OP's sentence are exactly the same. You ignored, in fact, what I actually said. One last attempt: The implied parsing by you, Bill J and Araucaria is mistaken: There are not two to prepositions. There is "belong to" but there is no "clues to" [thing]. It's provide clues and to which [rest of clause] – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 19:49
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X will provide clues. [no to]

These cars belong to a category. [belong to a category]

X will provide clues to which category the cars belong.

One is hard pressed to concoct a mistake in The Economist's sentence:

Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues // to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong.

The parse is shown by the slash

belong to a category is a verb plus a prepositional phrase.

The sentence does not say:

Clues to a category. [clues to plus a noun]. That parse here would be wrong.

provide clues is a verb plus a direct object.

to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong=

a relative clause introduced by the preposition to followed by a relative clause introduced by which.

Typical of formal English.

placement of prepositions

Just one example from that link:

INFORMAL: Is that the man (who) she arrived with?
FORMAL: Is that the man with whom she arrived?

  • "Clues" doesn't take a to unless there is a following complement. There is one in the Economist sentence. Try substituting with a different intertogative clause * "They will provide clues what happened" <--- Why's that ungrammatical? No "to", that's why! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 3 '19 at 23:51
  • @Araucaria It is most definitely not ungrammatical. There are two separate issues: provide clues + belong to a category. The parse is not: provide clues to which etc. – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 15:44
  • But every phrase in a sentence has some kind of grammatical function (subject/object/complement of a noun/complement of a preposition etc) What function/grammatical relations do you believe that the constituent to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong has, then? I can't just float in mid-air. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 4 '19 at 16:25
  • /to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong/ to is a preposition followed by a relative pronoun (which) in a relative clause. The word clues here is not followed by a noun: clues to the mystery/clues to the puzzle. It is: clues to which you object. ha ha – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 16:56
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    @Araucaria Oh, so that isn't the meaning? You are a hoot. And this: Aston Martin’s IPO will provide further clues to which category ultra-expensive carmakers really belong to.= [buzzer]. Your reading depends on clues to [some thing]. – Lambie Nov 4 '19 at 17:10

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