The capture of the drone took place on the outer perimeter of China’s expansive claim to the sea, about 50 miles (80km) from the Philippine port of Subic Bay, which was once home to a large American naval base (see map). It appeared calculated to show China’s naval reach, with only minimal risk of any conflict—the American ship that was operating the drone, the Bowditch, is a not a combat vessel.

The above paragraph is extracted from Warning shot

Does the first sentence in bold means that 'it appeared that it was calculated to...'? If it is, what is the it referring to? If not, how should I put it?

The second sentence, is it grammatically correct?

  • 2
    As a side note, the article opens with the word it ("It was an operation..."), a narrative use that means, roughly, the-situation-I-am-about-to-tell-you-about. Compare It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 11:25
  • Thank you @TRomano! I think someone keeps deleting my comments, so this one probably would also be deleted. Hope it will last till you see it. Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 11:59
  • 2
    Don't be bothered by those deletions. it is just someone's compulsion. :)
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 12:10

2 Answers 2


It appeared calculated to show China's naval reach . . .

It appeared calculated can be interpreted in two ways. You can interpret "calculated" as an adjective, meaning "it appeared to be planned and intended", which would follow the pattern "subject+appear+adjective". It's normally interchangeable with "it appeared as adjective".

The interpretation which applied here, though, was interpretation of "calculated" as a participle. "It appeared to be a calculation of China's naval reach . . . " In other words, you're right.

. . . is a not a combat vessel.
italic emphasis mine

Now this is more interesting. It reminds me of constructions like "an NARQ", which is a term previously used while moderating Stack Overflow questions. It stood for "a Not A Real Question".

Articles in English normally tend to appear as the first element in a noun phrase, before the nominal. There's the possibility of articles appearing in other places, of course. It usually occurs in colloquial language when using simpler but more words is preferable to using fewer but formal words people are less likely to understand.

Therefore, you normally see constructions such as "a getting-to-know-you meeting" instead of "a familiarization meeting" or anything that fancy. There are also more extreme cases where the hyphens are eventually removed and it's officially become a word, such as "whackamole". As you see, articles can very well appear in the middle of such words. We call those words compounds.

Colloquial speech, and sometimes formal speech (but not academic) is usually not restrained to what compounds it can use. The most important thing here is not having to explain what you just said.

So, in a bizarre context where "not a combat vessel" is a compound, most likely the 'collapsed' version of an acronym in a technical military context, it would be acceptable to say "a not a combat vessel", and the author would have "an NACV" in mind.

That's most likely not the case though, and this was just a typo that escaped the proofreaders (I had to read it thrice to notice it too).

  • 4
    That 'a' is certainly just a typo, and I think your speculative discursion on the issue will confuse many readers.
    – TonyK
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 13:32
  • 2
    -1 How is the big issue the discussion of the extra "a" and not the fact that the poster claims "It appeared to be calculated.." means it "It appeared to be calculating China's naval reach..." Which is certainly not the correct interpretation. "It appeared to be calculated to show China's reach" means the Chinese wanted to let the USA know they can police/defend the waters they are laying claim to without risking the possibility of a military skirmish by choosing to engage with a non combat craft.
    – DRF
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 15:09
  • 1
    If you would like to extend this discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat for your convenience.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:58
  • 1
    When I saw that sentence in the article, I was thinking maybe it's like what you said in your answer, it could be a compound, so I did google the supposedly compound, but didn't get much results therefore I post the question, and you pointed that out! I like your answer. It helps me understanding all the possibilities. It's very clear. Thank you MAR. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 1:52
  • 1
    Glad I could be of help @Jas :)
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 5:44

Your interpretation is correct. "It" refers to the capture of the drone under the described conditions.

I had completely missed the extra "a" hiding in plain sight. Yeah, that's a typo. It should read "...is not a combat vessel".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .