I was reading an article on "Pidgin English" a couple of days ago. It started like this:

" There is a story of a British consul in China who was asked to marry a young Danish sailor and a Chinese girl - no one of the three knowing the other languages. ..."

This very beginning part of the article left a question in my mind. Here's the question:

Is " ... knowing the other languages" an adjectival participle clause which modifies the noun "three" or even possibly the whole noun phrase " no one of the three"? (I don't really think that it can be a relative clause.) And IF I am on the right track, which one of the following re-written forms is correct? Why?

  1. No one of the three knew the other languages Or
  2. No one of the three knows the other languages.
  • 1
    This type of grammar is not really my strong suit, but I think it is an adjectival participle phrase, yes; it describes the manner in which the events took place. #2 is definitely not correct because the events were in the past - the consul was asked - so present tense doesn't match.
    – stangdon
    Dec 9, 2016 at 18:12
  • Surely off-topic, but could you provide the link to the article please - the history of Pidgin English is something I've never thought of exploring so far. Would be interesting to read the whole article.
    – Victor B.
    Dec 9, 2016 at 18:35
  • Although the sense is clear, strictly speaking it should read no one of the three knowing the others' languages. Dec 9, 2016 at 18:36
  • It's not a modifier; it's the subject of the gerund-participial clause "no one of the three knowing the other languages". "No one of the three" is a fused partitive NP meaning 'no one member of the set of three people'.
    – BillJ
    Dec 9, 2016 at 19:33
  • @Rompey: You can find it in a book by Michael Swan named "Understanding Ideas: Advanced Reading Skills" - Cambridge.
    – M.N
    Dec 10, 2016 at 9:53

1 Answer 1


I think the following is slightly correct.

No one of the three knew the other languages.

You can make it better by changing it to :

No one of the three knew the other's language.

The second one (No one of the three knows the other languages.) is incorrect because it refers to the present. When you consider the main idea of the whole sentence, it happened in the past.Hence, when re-writing, the new sentence should be in Past Tense.


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