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    #1

    Deciphering complicated sentences

    Could a teacher please help me decipher this sentence?
    "So unreliable was the rank and file of the eighteenth-century Prussian army that military manuals forbade camping near a woods or forest: The troops would simply melt away into the trees."

    I found two subjects

    subject to the left: rank
    Right: file
    Verb: was
    please tell me if I am right. Also please help me with the modifiers and help me understand why they are modifiers.

    thank you.
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 15-Sep-2015 at 18:44. Reason: Enlarging font size.

  1. Piscean's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Deciphering complicated sentences

    The subject of the verb 'was' is 'the rank and file (of the eighteenth century Prussian army). The words in brackets are a preposition phrase used adjectivally to modify the rank and file.

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    #3

    Re: Deciphering complicated sentences

    The subject is "the rank and file of the eighteenth-century Prussian army", "was" is a linking verb, "So unreliable" a complement inverted for emphasis from "The rank and file of the eighteenth-century Prussian army was so unreliable".
    Last edited by Rover_KE; 16-Sep-2015 at 12:17. Reason: Deleting unnecessary quote.
    I'm not a teacher and I'm not a native speaker of English.

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    #4

    Re: Deciphering complicated sentences

    Here I expected the question to be about what "melt away into the trees" meant.

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    #5

    Re: Deciphering complicated sentences

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    Hello, S.A.:

    Thanks to the other posters' insight, I think that I am ready to contribute to your thread.

    My teachers told me that it is easier to analyze a sentence if one simplifies it.

    So let's return your sentence to the regular order and delete some unnecessary words ("unnecessary" for analysis, that is).

    "The rank and file of the army was so unreliable that manuals forbade camping near a woods: The troops would melt away."

    In my opinion:

    The (complete subject) is "The rank and file of the army."
    The (linking) verb is "was."
    "Unreliable" is an adjective that refers to the complete subject (that is to say: "The unreliable rank and file of the army").
    "so" = adverb that modifies "unreliable."
    "that" = subordinating conjunction that introduces "manuals forbade camping near a woods."

    And what about "The troops would melt away?"

    I want to thank you for forcing me to check my books. I think (think!) that I can explain that.

    Notice the colon (:) after the word "woods."

    If I understand my books correctly, sometimes a writer will use a colon as a substitute for a conjunction. Why? Because it's simply more dramatic.

    Which construction do you think is more effective in grabbing your attention?

    a. Manuals forbade camping near a woods because the troops would melt away [gradually run away].
    b. Manuals forbade camping near a woods: the troops would melt away.

    IF my idea is correct, then I owe credit to: Tom McArthur and Feri McArthur, The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992), Oxford University Press, page 232. I love their comment that sometimes a colon is substituted for a conjunction in order to "produce a staccato ... effect."
    Last edited by TheParser; 16-Sep-2015 at 13:34.

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    #6

    Re: Deciphering complicated sentences

    Thank you guys for the comments. As I looked over the sentence again I wondered would ' troops' not also be a subject?

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    #7

    Re: Deciphering complicated sentences

    Yes it is. New clause, new subject.

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