Reading an article by The Guardian, I stumbled upon a sentence which I cannot make sense of:

Yes, the worst things you may have heard about the National Defense Authorization Act, which has formally ended 254 years of democracy in the United States of America, and driven a stake through the heart of the bill of rights, are all really true. The act passed with large margins in both the House and the Senate on the last day of last year – even as tens of thousands of Americans were frantically begging their representatives to secure Americans' habeas corpus rights in the final version.

It does indeed – contrary to the many flatout-false form letters I have seen that both senators and representatives sent to their constituents, misleading them about the fact that the NDAA destroys their due process rights. Under the act, anyone can be described as a 'belligerent". As the New American website puts it, ...

I understand the meaning of the sentence. I just can't make sense of the grammar. It does indeed what? It does indeed misleading them? Or does "It does indeed" refer to a previous sentence, as in

I think it violates my rights. It does indeed - contrary to the fact that many lawyers might tell me otherwise.

I posted the previous paragraph so that you can see that this isn't the case either.

5 Answers 5


What probably happened is that the piece was edited and a crucial antecedent — what the "It" that begins the first sentence of the second paragraph referenced — got removed because an editor thought it was material that could be cut for length. Something on the order of

... Millions of Americans fear that the bill abolishes their rights to due process.

It does indeed ...

would have tied everything together nicely.

The big problem with journalism moving from print to the Web, as I see it, is that the cycles are so fast that normal editing suffers and copy-editing is virtually non-existent.

  • +1: I should have scrolled down to read this before commenting on Phil's answer above. I reckon you're right - something like that could be the missing antecedent for "It", which just got snipped out by an editor who couldn't follow the tortuous syntax in order to register that this wasn't just an "optional extra". Mar 2, 2012 at 20:57

You are right: this text violates certain rules of style and/or grammar.

Normally, "it does" must echo a specific verb mentioned earlier:

Pericles knows that the city of Athens depends on its fleet. It does indeed; for the city was victorious in the end, even after it had been burned to the ground by the Persians. The people were evacuated by sea, and the navy defeated the Persians.

Notice that "does" echoes the tense, number, and person of the verb it echoes ("depends"). In your text, no suitable verb can be found: "does" echoes a void. I had to read the whole sentence twice to make sure I understood what it was supposed to mean.

(There is no connection between "does" and "misleading": the sentence is an anacoluthon marked by a dash—which is in itself fine.)

  • You just had to work in the Greek angle, didn't you? ;)
    – Robusto
    Mar 2, 2012 at 23:59
  • @Robusto: Greece rules the seas! Apart from the fact that I can only type a straight line with the greatest effort, I stand by my reference! (Long live spellchecker's red markings.) Mar 3, 2012 at 4:39

Armen, to coin a phrase, "it's not you, it's them".

This piece does not come up to the standard you'd expect from a British broadsheet. The first para grates to begin with - the first sentence is too long, the "yes" and what it relates to are too far apart and it should say "really are all true", not "are all really true". As you read it, if you've kept the structure in your head by the time you get to the end, it sounds like he's saying those things are all "very true" rather than "actually true". Any English speaker would understand, but it jars slightly.

As I think you've seen, it then gets worse. Dashes are often used in journalism parenthetically, i.e. used in pairs to surround some extra piece of information that is not central to the flow of the sentence. Normally, the reader will know when encountering the first dash whether to expect a second simply by how the sentence has read to that point. In this case, the dash simply represents a pause to separate two ideas without putting them into distinct sentences. It's especially confusing because the "It does indeed" relates not just to the last sentence but the previous paragraph - so the reader doesn't know what to do. Is there a second dash - meaning that what follows immediately is parenthetic - or is there not?

The excerpt is a mess. I don't think there's anything wrong with your understanding of grammar. :-) Hope this helps.

  • It does help, but I can't figure out from your answer whether the sentence in bold is plain wrong or just stylistically/syntactically clumsy. Mar 2, 2012 at 18:01
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    Also, I don't understand how it relates to the previous paragraph. There is not a single sentence in the first paragraph with a verb in the simple present tense other than 'to be', in which case it should have been "It is indeed - ...". Mar 2, 2012 at 18:03
  • The latter - there's nothing grammatically wrong. I'm not a purist of the "no sentences start with but" variety, who would probably blanche at a paragraph starting in that way. But the cues you're given as you read the piece (including that sentence) don't match the structure that follows, so it's difficult to read quickly. Mar 2, 2012 at 18:04
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    No, not annoying at all. I wouldn't be on here if I didn't love these sorts of questions. I suppose it does mean it's grammatically wrong in that the verbs don't agree. The sentence on its own would be grammatically correct (but tricky to navigate) if the verbs tallied, so I guess I agree that it's incorrect on the basis you give in your second comment. Mar 2, 2012 at 18:33
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    @Phil Whittington: Quite so. Apart from the fact that it's ridiculously overblown syntax, the tense of "It does indeed" is definitely wrong. I hadn't known Naomi Woolf was such a poor writer, but I can't see any obvious way in which this dog's dinner of an article can be pinned on just some typesetter at The Grauniad. Mar 2, 2012 at 20:53

It parses OK, it's just not particularly well articulated and the referents are not obvious. It separates as the following:

  • "It does indeed – "

That stands alone as a sentence. 'It' refers to the one actual statement in the preceding paragraph, that the NDAA "has formally ended 254 years of democracy", or more extrapolatively state, violates our rights. The last sentence of the paragraph throws doubt on that, and that doubt is reversed by the 'indeed'.

  • "(it is) contrary to the many flatout-false form letters I have seen that both senators and representatives sent to their constituents, "

This is a comment on that sentence with an elided pronoun.

  • "(it is) misleading them about the fact that the NDAA destroys their due process rights. :

This is similarly a comment, eliding the same pronoun.

  • If it refers to "has formally ended 254 years of democracy", shouldn't it be "It has indeed - ..."? Mar 2, 2012 at 18:53

As other answers have noted, the article apparently is jumbled or has been mis-edited to the point that the referent of "It" in "It does indeed" is not clear.

Looking at the article itself, one finds it headed by a title and brief summary,

The NDAA: a clear and present danger to American liberty
The US is sleepwalking into becoming a police state, where, like a pre-Magna Carta monarch, the president can lock up anyone

followed by a stock photo (soldier standing in doorway) with caption

NDAA critics say that it enables ordinary US citizens to be treated like 'enemy combatants' in Guantánamo.
Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images

after which appear the two paragraphs that are quoted in the question. That caption is what provides the references for "It does indeed". Taken together, they would read (in part)

NDAA critics say that it [NDAA] enables ordinary US citizens to be treated like 'enemy combatants' in Guantánamo. ... It [NDAA] does indeed – contrary to [letters to constituents] ... Under the act, anyone can be described as a 'belligerent".

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