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A person who agrees to serve as a mediator between two warring factions at the request of both abandons by so agreeing the right to take sides later.

Does this sentence mean:

A person who agrees to serve as a mediator between two warring factions (at the request of both) abandons the right to take sides later.

If this is the case why is there a "by so agreeing"?

Or does this sentence mean:

A person who agrees to serve as a mediator between two warring factions at the request of both, by agreeing so, abandons the right to take sides later.

If this is the case, why should it be "by so agreeing"?

Is there any grammar reference for this kind of sentence structure? Could someone come up with similar examples, please? This sentence really confused me at first; I thought it meant:

A person agrees to serve as a mediator between two warring factions, at the request of both abandons, by so, agreeing the right to take sides later. (A mediator agrees to take the role by agreeing he can take one side later...)

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    @Lambie Sure it's grammatical. By the very act of agreeing to mediate the mediator gives up the right to take sides later. – StoneyB Oct 10 '17 at 23:06
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    It's perfectly grammatical, but would be greatly improved by a pair of commas: "... abandons, by so agreeing, the right..." – hobbs Oct 11 '17 at 2:07
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    @Kevin well, you're right, it is deliberately constructed; it seems to be a GRE practice question in the reading comprehension section. But to me it seems like a pretty good facsimile of 18th-19th century formal/pedagogical written language. – hobbs Oct 11 '17 at 4:45
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    @Kevin I entirely agree that it's an unnecessarily complicated sentence and very difficult to parse; but I don't think it's deliberately obfuscatory. It's pretty ordinary in the legal/bureaucratic dialect, which avoids making interpretation dependent on pointing and often employs non-'standard' syntax to constrain interpretation. – StoneyB Oct 11 '17 at 11:29
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    Lawyers traditionally don't use commas, so that the meaning of a contract won't turn on something as tiny as a comma. A lawyer or judge would find nothing unclear about this sentence, and it could have been written by any lawyer up to the present day. There is nothing else for it to mean other than what it does mean. – user207421 Oct 11 '17 at 21:28
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The sentence has a lot of qualifications which make it look more complicated than it really is.

The core is:

  • A person abandons the right to take sides later.

What kind of person?

  • A person who agrees to mediate between two parties

Any person who agrees to mediate between them?

  • No—only a person who is asked to mediate by both parties

Does the person have to explicitly give up the right?

  • No—the person gives up the right by so agreeing—that is, by the very act of agreeing to mediate.

A mediator is presumed to be a neutral party, and must maintain her neutrality after the mediation is over so that it cannot be called into question.

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    Interesting interpretation of "later" as "after the mediation is over". I would have interpreted it only as "during the full length of the mediation process". – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 11 '17 at 6:31
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    Thank you for your answer! Is “ by so agreeing “ same to “ by agreeing so” ? – Chloe Zhou Oct 11 '17 at 6:44
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    @ChloeZhou : "by so agreeing" is very formal English (it's the sort of thing you would see in legal agreements, rather than normal business emails). "by agreeing so" would not be idiomatic English. You could rewrite as "... abandons by agreeing to this...". as "(by agreeing to this) abandons". It is a pretty complicated sentence for a native speaker to parse. – Martin Bonner Oct 11 '17 at 7:39
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    In the Indian dialect a comparable phrase is 'by agreeing to the same'. The exact meaning of 'by agreeing so' in this case is 'by agreeing to do what is mentioned in the first half of this sentence'. A clearer way to restate the original sentence would be "If someone agrees to mediate between two warring factions they implicitly also agree not to take a side later, when the mediation is concluded". – Cronax Oct 11 '17 at 9:22
  • @HagenvonEitzen the later is in reference to the date 'by agreeing' - ie once agreed they can not take sides, during OR after the process. – UKMonkey Oct 11 '17 at 14:20
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Classic example of English that is formally correct but quite unnecessarily obtuse.

Try:

If two warring factions ask you to serve as a mediator, and you agree, then you abandon the right to take sides later.

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    Actually, the original sentence is far more simply phrased. Although it uses a greater number of modifying clauses than is typical in modern English, there is no ambiguity to be found at all. Your rephrasing loses the "by so agreeing" part, and also "and you agree" is far less specific as it doesn't explicitly state to what you are agreeing. – Wildcard Oct 11 '17 at 23:36
  • I didn't say it was ambiguous, just that it was obtuse. I think the "if.. then" captures the meaning of "by so agreeing", and I think that "to serve as a mediator" is the only possible object of "to agree". You could add "to do so" if you think it necessary. – Michael Kay Oct 12 '17 at 14:50
  • The use of "if...then..." does not indicate causation. It indicates implication (in the logical sense), and only suggests or infers causation. "By so agreeing," in contrast, directly signifies causation. Likewise, "and you agree" refers as you say to serving as a mediator, but only if there is no context. It could instead refer to a potential agreement under discussion prior to the quoted sentence, whereas the use of "so" precludes any such potential ambiguity. – Wildcard Oct 13 '17 at 11:03
  • @Wildcard. Please yourself. I write for many different audiences and the form I would use would depend on whom I was writing for. In this particular case the OP clearly wasn't comfortable with complex sentence constructions so I suggested something more readable. – Michael Kay Oct 13 '17 at 13:35

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