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"Years of bitter dispute about whether to progress with the eradication led to a poll..."

I'm not sure whether "years" or "dispute" should be subject.

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    The subject is the whole noun phrase years of bitter dispute about whether to progress with the eradication.
    – BillJ
    Nov 20, 2017 at 7:25
  • @BillJ - That could be shortened to Years of bitter dispute, no?
    – J.R.
    Nov 20, 2017 at 9:02
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    @J.R. Yes, it could, but all that would do is change the subject and the meaning. The "about" phrase contains an important subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question), i.e. "whether to progress with the eradication". The meaning is roughly "Years of bitter dispute about the answer to the question 'should we/they progress the eradication? led to a poll.'"
    – BillJ
    Nov 20, 2017 at 10:03
  • Thank you, guys.I understand that the whole noun phrase should be regarded as the subject of the sentence. But what if, as J.R. suggested, it is shortened as "years of bitter dispute", then which is the subject?
    – timothycat
    Nov 20, 2017 at 10:53
  • If that were the case, “Years of bitter dispute” is the subject.
    – J.R.
    Nov 20, 2017 at 11:21

3 Answers 3

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Years of bitter dispute about [whether to progress with the eradication] led to a poll.

Here's a simplified tree diagram of the sentence. The head of the subject NP is "years", and the bracketed whether element above is a subordinate interrogative infinitival clause (embedded question) functioning as complement of "about".

Note that the phrase-level constituents are complements, not modifiers

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  • What would be your thought if the question is asking for a simple subject? thanks !
    – dan
    Nov 21, 2017 at 7:06
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It looks like you're asking about the simple subject, the keyword of the phrase that is the complete subject. 

It's "years".  Those years led to a poll. 

In contrast, "dispute" is the simple object of the preposition "of". 

Questions like this one are often related to subject/verb agreement.  In the example sentence, this hardly matters.  Both "years led" and "dispute led" agree.  However, "years do lead" and "dispute does lead" show a difference in agreement, which is reflected in "years of dispute do lead". 

As a rule of thumb, you should be able to remove all the modifiers in a subject without removing this keyword: 

Years [ of bitter dispute [ about whether to progress [ with the eradication ] ] ] led to a poll

We ignore "with the eradication" because it modifies "to progress". We ignore "about whether to progress . . ." because it modifies "dispute". We ignore "of bitter dispute . . ." because it modifies "years".

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  • OP is not just asking about the head of the subject, but about the subject as a whole. You could have said that there needs to be agreement between the head of the subject and the verb rather than "ignore" all other subject components.
    – Gustavson
    Nov 21, 2017 at 0:01
  • No. OP clearly asked about an individual word, not some phrase as a whole. In other words, the simple subject, not the complete subject. Nov 21, 2017 at 2:51
  • I think the simple subject should be 'dispute' logically, instead of 'years'. Take the example in one of the comments above: "A series of after-shocks damaged the town further." I don't think you would take 'series' as the simple subject, but after-shocks, right? Similarly, in this case, the simple subject should be dispute, shouldn't it?
    – dan
    Nov 21, 2017 at 6:23
  • @dan If "after-shocks" is the head, the indefinite article shouldn't be there. Nov 21, 2017 at 6:37
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    In that sentence, @dan, "series" is the simple subject: "<s>A</s> series <s>[ of aftershocks ]</s> has damaged the town", rather than "<s>A series [ of </s>aftershocks<s> ]</s> have damaged the town". I think you're seeing that "dispute" and "after-shocks" carry more semantic weight. I agree. Those words have the largest influence on the meanings of those subjects. What I'm trying to show is that "years" and "series" carry more grammatical weight. Those words have the closest relationship to the predicators of their clauses. Those are the words to which subject/verb agreement applies. Nov 21, 2017 at 13:17
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'Years led to a poll' is the grammatically correct sentence although it doesn't make much sense. Sometimes being grammatically correct just doesn't mean anything, does it!

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