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I couldn’t figure out the grammatical role of “in what” in the sentence below. What does “in” refer to in this case? Can someone explain it please ?

Burroughs killed Vollmer in what he first admitted to and shortly thereafter denied as a drunken attempt at playing William Tell.

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    In what doesn't mean anything. Take out everything starting with what and ending with as. What's left is the main sentence without qualifying interpolations. – John Lawler Jun 1 '20 at 20:07
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"in what" and "as" bracket a parenthetical clause describing Burroughs's confession and then non-confession of the killing.

This same information could have been introduced with ", which" or actually placed in parentheses "(which . . . denied)".

As Lawler notes, the sentence makes sense without it, which is part of the definition of a parenthetical clause, although some potentially useful information is left out.

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    In what = in/during the thing/action/statement/incident, etc, that. "He threw the cat out of the window in what he called "a burst of anger"." – Greybeard Jun 1 '20 at 20:49
  • Thank you all for your clear explanations. Just one more thing: when I put the parenthetical phrase between brackets for example, it reads “Burroughs killed Vollmer in (what he first admitted to and shortly thereafter denied as) a drunken attempt at playing William Tell” So here, the word ”as” seems redundant to me since “deny” takes a direct object. Actually, when I first read the sentence, I thought he denied the killing “as being a drunken attempt at...” because of the use of the word “as”. Can you lastly clarify this usage, if I was able to explain the situation? – bukre Jun 2 '20 at 8:28
  • A couple of possible constructs:Burroughs killed Vollmer (in what he first admitted to and shortly thereafter denied) as a drunken attempt at playing William Tell. Burroughs killed Vollmer (which he first admitted to and shortly thereafter denied) in a drunken attempt at playing William Tell. The second is a little clearer to me. – gorlux Jun 2 '20 at 18:20
  • @bukre "as" is necessary. He described the incident as a drunken attempt. = as being – Greybeard Jul 2 '20 at 9:36

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