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The bills would even limit the Education Department's ability to offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective - as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has done.

In this sentence, Obama administration's program has done what?? the program is like the bills in the sentence? so it limited the education department's ability? Or the program is strategies that have proved effective? How can I know what elliptical word is in the sentence??

  • Do you mean elided word? (ellipsis?) I'm not familiar with an "elliptical" word. – eques Dec 2 '16 at 17:10
  • @eques well, there is definition 2b as in the M-W dictionary entry ... but yeah I think dbwlsld means "ellipsis". – Andrew Dec 2 '16 at 17:31
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    The as phrase is an adjunct of comparison in which "done" is anaphoric to offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective. – BillJ Dec 2 '16 at 17:40
  • Yes I meant 'ellipsis word'. Thank you for correcting me on that – dbwlsld Dec 3 '16 at 4:06
  • There is no ellipsis in your example. "Done" is a reduced verb phrase whose antecedent is offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective. "Done" can be dropped to give an equivalent construction with ellipsis: _- as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has. – BillJ Dec 3 '16 at 8:29
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I agree this sentence is unfortunately vague to someone not familiar with the background of the context. So it's more about reading comprehension than a simple understanding of the words.

We can paraphrase as follows:

The bills would even limit (effective incentives) that were offered by (Race to the Top).

How do I know this? Mostly because I know what kind of incentives they're talking about, and (generally) what was included in Obama's Race to the Top program. Otherwise it might be difficult to grasp that the main topic of the sentence is "incentives", because the use of incentives is what the author wants to contrast between the first and second parts of the sentence.

Ellipsis (or elliptical writing) is used because the author assumes the reader either already knows about Race to the Top or can pick up the essentials from context. Or he might explain in more detail elsewhere in the article.

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  • I don't think "main subject of the sentence is "incentives"" is correct. Subject has a specific meaning. Do you perhaps mean theme? – eques Dec 2 '16 at 18:02
  • @eques changed to "topic" to avoid confusion. – Andrew Dec 2 '16 at 18:16
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    It's all about what "done "means. It is clearly a reduced VP with offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective as antecedent. – BillJ Dec 2 '16 at 18:41
  • But @Andrew, there is no ellipsis in the OP's example. However, "done" could be dropped to give an equivalent construction that does actually have ellipsis, cf. "- as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has __". – BillJ Dec 3 '16 at 8:34
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This is a very ambiguous sentence. Still, we can find some clues that lead us to the correct meaning.

So what has the Race to the Top (RTT) program done? We have three options:

  • it has limited the Department's ability
  • it has offered incentives to states
  • it has adopted effective strategies

I think the third one can be ruled out because it "to adopt strategies that have proved effective" is basically a modifier phrase - it's main purpose is just to explain what kind of incentives we are talking about.

To decide between the first and second, we can rely on context. From the name "Race to the Top", what does it sound like the program does - provide limitations or encouragement?

According to Wikipedia,

Race to the Top is a $4.35 billion U.S. Department of Education competitive grant created to spur and reward innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education.

From this context, we can be almost certain that the phrase "as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has done" is referring to "offer states incentives".

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The bills would even limit the Education Department's ability to offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective - as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has done.

The sentence is not ambiguous at all. This is the reading of /has done/: as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program [has limited the Education Department's ability to offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective].

/Has done/ refers back to the WHOLE part of the sentence in bold.

Allow me to write a simpler one:

The man's behavior has proven disastrous for the school as John's has done.

Rewrite for comprehension: The man's behavior has proven disastrous for the school as John's behavior has proven disastrous for the country.

Here's the TRICK: everything that comes BEFORE /as/ also applies to the entire clause that comes after as. It is a mechanism for avoiding repeating the whole thing.

The bills would even limit the Education Department's ability to offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective - as the Obama administration's Race to the Top program has limited the Education's Department ability to offer states incentives to adopt strategies that have proved effective.

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