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In the science article, I found this sentence.

In order to perform these distinct functions, proteins rely on the precise 3D arrangement of functional groups — referred to as the protein fold.

I think something should be after 'to' as an object. But why it is like that? and what does it mean?

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    It has the same meaning as "Which is referred to as the protein fold" where "refer to" is a phrasal verb, and "as" is a preposition. – Cardinal Sep 10 '16 at 12:59
  • @Cardinal Then does the clause almost means like "which is reffered to something like the protein fold"? – JBL Sep 10 '16 at 13:05
  • I'm not sure about your meaning, but it means something like: "which is called 'the protein fold' " IMHO. – Cardinal Sep 10 '16 at 13:09
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This is just a passive construction.

You can refer to 'the precise 3D arrangement of functional groups' as 'the protein fold' —which is using an active construction for refer to

or

You can say that 'the precise 3D arrangement of functional groups' (are) referred to as 'the protein fold'.

In the article, the linking verb to be is replaced by the hyphen (—)

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    ah now I understand what grammar is in, I always get confused when prasal verbs get into passive form. – JBL Sep 10 '16 at 13:38

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