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Below sentence is copied from The Economist.

Firms operating there will be subject to rules based on English common law, enforced by independent courts, the government promises.

I'm not able to understand the sentence structure and the usage of commas in the above sentence. The first part of the sentence (Firms operating there will be subject to rules based on English common law) looks me a complete sentence (independent clause), but the second part (enforced by independent courts, the government promises) is using enforced..... as a verb or as a noun?. How is the writer using commas to split the ideas?

Please explain the structure of the sentence.

  • "Enforced by independent courts" is a past participial clause modifying "rules", so we have the large noun phrase "rules based on English common law, enforced by independent courts" which functions as complement of the preposition "to". "The government promises" is a post-nucleus clause which has the entire expression (a that clause) "Firms operating there will be subject to rules based on English common law, enforced by independent courts" as complement. of "promises". – BillJ Jul 3 '17 at 17:36
  • Thanks, @BillJ. There is one more sentence in the same topic. They used Kazakh territory both as a gulag and a nuclear testing ground, deliberately exposing children to radiation to measure its effects. The phrase deliberately exposing children to radiation to measure its effects is also a noun phrase using gerund as a noun?. what is the type of phrase. – Raheel Bari Jul 3 '17 at 18:04
  • It's not a phrase but a gerund-participial clause functioning as an adjunct, an optional item in clause structure. Compare: "They used Kazakh territory both as a gulag and a nuclear testing ground ~ they deliberately exposed children to radiation to measure its effects". – BillJ Jul 3 '17 at 18:18
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It is easier to understand the sentence if you think of it as reported speech, thus:

"Firms operating there will be subject to rules based on English common law, enforced by independent courts", the government promises.

It is clear now that the government is making yet another promise! The structure of the promise may be confusing until we move some pieces around to make the meaning clear.

We know that "Firms operating there will be subject to rules..." (We don't know where "there" is, but it's not germane to the question.) The writer has two pieces of information to convey to us about the rules that will govern these firms. The two pieces of information are::

  • The rules will be based on English common law
  • The rules will be enforced by independent courts

The writer uses the first comma to set off the verb phrase "enforced by independent courts", and that phrase takes "rules" as its subject. He might have written the sentence more clearly by using "and" instead of the first comma, and by doing away with the the pseudo "reported promise" thus:

The government promises that firms operating there will be subject to rules based on English common law and enforced by independent courts.

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