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I have a question about this:

We discussed socialism as allowed by law.

Does "as allowed by law" go with "socialism" or "discussed"? In another word, what is allowed by law? Socialism or the discussion itself?

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Without context, it's impossible to be sure, but as socialism is a social/economic system/theory (i.e. not really something that can be allowed by law), I would say that most readers would understand "as allowed by law" to modify "discussed". –  Samuel Lijin Jul 3 at 14:02
    
@SamuelLijin Not at all. As far back as the 1880s Bernard Shaw and the Fabians were very fond of pointing out that much of existing law was 'socialist' in intent and effect, and many contemporary conservatives echo that notion, albeit as a matter for outrage rather than approbation. –  StoneyB Jul 3 at 14:54
    
This question has implications beyond those which I think you intend to raise, so I have posted a further question about it on ELU –  StoneyB Jul 3 at 18:22

2 Answers 2

The phrase would be parsed as modifying discussed only if it were set off with a comma (or expressed with corresponding comma-intonation in speech) or moved to an earlier position:

We discussed socialism, as allowed by law.

As allowed by law, we discussed socialism.

We discussed, as allowed by law, socialism. (*This one is grammatical but awkward with the very ‘light’ one-word direct object. The parenthetical as allowed by law seems to arise only as a mid-sentence afterthought.*)

In these cases the sentence would involve a “legally allowed discussion”.

But as you have written the sentence, without a comma, as allowed by law is understood to be a restrictive modifier on socialism: what we discussed might be expressed as “legally allowed socialism”.


That is how traditional grammar would put it; contemporary grammars would more likely say that the phrase 'modifies' the entire clause.

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Would "define mood as it relates to a work of fiction" be equally ambiguous, because "as it relates to...." could modify the action of defining mood? –  meatie Jul 4 at 2:15
    
@meatie That's a somewhat different issue than your question raises - in fact, it's the issue I've taken to ELU. See the link in my comment. –  StoneyB Jul 4 at 4:56
    
Maybe you should moved that question from the other site to this site. –  meatie Jul 5 at 1:34
    
@meatie It's so abstruse a grammatical matter I thought it really out of place here; but I will append any findings to my answer here. –  StoneyB Jul 5 at 3:43

It sounds like "as allowed by law" is modifying "discussed". As allowed by law is basically saying they discussed it as much as the law allowed them to, implying that the laws only allow them to talk about socialism to a certain extent.

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