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In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items borrowed at 35% with children's books and DVDs equally second at 20% each.

I have two question about this.

  1. The preposition with is followed by a clause without a verb, so why is this sentence correct?
  2. Has an of been elided in "20% each"? Does it correspond to "20% of each"?

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    "20% each" does not mean 20% of each, but 20% of the items borrowed are children's books and another 20% are DVDs. – skymningen Nov 13 '13 at 15:38
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    It is correct, if awkward. You might get around that with the replacement sentence: "In 2005, fiction made up the largest portion of items borrowed, at 35 %, with children's books and DVDs tied for second with 20 % each." – rsegal Nov 13 '13 at 15:42
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    To actually answer the question, the second clause is a verbless adverbial clause. – dead Nov 13 '13 at 15:48
  • It's not grammatical because it doesn't parse -- " made up the largest proportion" & "second" do not agree in any way. It's understandable and is compact so passes for journalistic writing. – Kris Nov 13 '13 at 15:48
  • @pomomango It doesn't fit that definition either. – Kris Nov 13 '13 at 15:49
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+200

First, let me start with the easiest parts of this sentence--all of which is completely grammatical when viewed in the right light--which is that 20% each is not in any way elided by omitting of. Each in this context means a piece. It could be rewritten as at 20% a piece/per category.

Second, fiction came in first, while children's books and [not necessarily children's DVDs] both tied for second, each selling 20% a piece/each, for a grand total of 40%.

It's the first each [selling] that's being elided. I also think that equally is saying more than it appears. It's meaning here is each one equally selling. It can also mean with each in second place. Those are the other places in which elision occurs

So here's what the sentence is saying:

In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items borrowed at 35%, with children's books and (other) DVDs in second place at 20% each.

Another way to look at it would be:

In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items borrowed at 35%, with children's books and (possibly another category of DVDs) equally [i.e., each tied for/equalling/in] second at 20% each.

In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items borrowed at 35% with both children's books and [X-category of DVDs] in second at 20% each.

To my ear, when I read it as explained above, it's perfectly grammatical. With that said, I'd edit that out of almost any work. If it takes me 5 minutes to figure out whether or not a sentence is grammatical, I believe it's got to be revised.

I also prefer the comma after with. If I'd written that, I'd want to signal a shift in my intonation. But comma usage is subjective. I prefer to place them where pauses or shifts in tone occur, but they're not required everywhere in every place I use them.

One last thing: these three categories are 75% of the total borrowing rate. Because no one group can have more that 35%, fiction is in first. If the other two tied for 2nd/3rd, that means that the unmentioned categories aren't greater than 20%.

  • Thanks for taking the time to write this answer! I awarded the bounty to it because it seems both clear and correct to me. – snailboat Dec 5 '13 at 20:01
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There is an orthographic problem with the sentence, by the way, in that it is missing necessary commas. It should be written like this:

In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items, borrowed at 35%, with children's books and DVDs equally second at 20% each.

or John Q Public's parse ("items borrowed", comma):

In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items borrowed, at 35%, with children's books and DVDs equally second at 20% each.

This looks like it can be plausibly analyzed as a case of elipsis which occurs in language regularly.

To understand what might be elided, we can hypothesize it and insert it into the sentence in bold:

In 2005, fiction made up the largest proportion of items, borrowed at 35%, with children's books and DVDs being equally second, those two having been borrowed (that year) at 20% each.

The Wikipedia page has numerous examples of various forms of ellipsis, categorized by type. Our example might be one of gapping. The example given there is similar to ours in a way:

John can play the guitar, and Mary the violin.

It is similar because it also has a second clause with no verb. The hypothesis why this is grammatical rests on the belief that ellipsis is going on: words are removed by the speaker, which the listener understands to be there, namely:

John can play the guitar, and Mary can play the violin.

  • The thing about commas is that they're subject, They're often optional. And some of those that you term required, are in fact not. The only place a comma is needed as after 35%. A comma after 2005 is optional too, but I prefer it. But the comma between items and borrowed is not necessary. In fact, I find it to be wrong, and less readable by extension. This borrowing figure is essential to the sentence, so I wouldn't set it off. And it's not really elided. The words are just taking on odd meanings. with children's books and DVDs *in second at 20% each.* – Giambattista Dec 5 '13 at 6:21
  • @JohnQPublic The comma before with is required, that much we agree. Now the comma before borrowed makes it clear that we do not have an "items borrowed at" noun phrase! Consider: "Fiction made up the largest proportion of items". Here we can have a full stop! Then: "It [fiction] was borrowed at 35%". So that is my thinking behind that comma. This is just like "Bob was the fastest runner, taking first place, with Joe a close second". He was not "the fastest (runner taking first place)". – Kaz Dec 5 '13 at 7:11
  • @JohnQPublic Though I see you are parsing it as "largest proportion of items borrowed, at 35%". Still that then requires the comma in that spot. I've been assuming that it's in a context where it is already clear that we are discussing borrowing statistics. This parse introduces that we are talking about borrowing statistics. I'm adding that to the answer, with credit given. – Kaz Dec 5 '13 at 7:22
  • I spent quite of time analyzing this sentence. I had to rework it in order for it to make sense. I'm not saying that you don't need the comma; I'm just saying that it's not required. As for the noun phrase, it's implied. It's clear that this is part of a larger body of work. It's about a library and it's lending rates. Also, the comma is unnecessary because the information is critical to the meaning of the sentence. You can place commas anywhere you like; I use punctuation, especially commas, to ensure my reader reads my writing the way I intended it to be read. – Giambattista Dec 5 '13 at 7:45
  • I took issue with the word required. There are very few instances in English where commas are required, so I wouldn't say required with that particular comma I think we agree otherwise,. – Giambattista Dec 5 '13 at 7:47
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A subordinate clause does not have to contain a verb. It simply supplies anciliary information.

But there are a number of things in the sentence which I do not like. The punctuation is poor. There should be a comma after 'borrowed' and a semi-colon after '35%'. 'Equally second' is non-idiomatic. The usual term is 'equal-second', after which there should be a further comma.

  • I'm sorry. I'm learning English by myself in a small village where haven't English teacher. I'm so confuse with some sentence with complex structure. Can you suggest for me a nice sentence based on my sentence. Thanks you very much – BinhPHT Nov 13 '13 at 16:02
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    I do not agree with your punctuation suggestions. A semicolon should not be followed by a dependent clause. – dead Nov 13 '13 at 16:02
  • @BinhPHT Prepositions are used with nouns, not verbs. In every language, not just English. In your language, too. So if you don't have a teacher, what made you invent the (wrong) rule that you need a verb? – ЯegDwight Nov 13 '13 at 22:56

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