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http://freebeacon.com/national-security/chinas-powerful-general-xi-jinping-henchman-meets-mattis/

The Americans fear China's military leaders—untested in combat—combined with an array of new high-technology weaponry is increasing the danger that a careless or reckless act by an overzealous Chinese regional commander will accidentally put the two nuclear-armed powers on the path to war.

Question 1: Why not "combining" or "having combined"?

Question 2: Why not "are"?

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    It is clearer if you do not interrupt the excerpt by embedding questions in it. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 13 '18 at 13:06
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    It is a messy sentence that cannot be repaired with a simple tweak. The verb is has no clearly stated subject. Perhaps you could add is that after fear. That might clear it up. I think the author means to say that the Americans' fear is that two things combined, first, the fact that China's military leaders are untested in combat and second the fact that they possess an array of high-tech weapons, is increasing the danger that a careless or reckless act by an overzealous Chinese regional command will accidentally put the two nuclear-armed powers on the path to war. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 13 '18 at 13:13
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It is not particularly well written.

Question 1: "combined with" is correct. The sense here is that what is to be feared already exists, not that it is coming into existence. Lack of experience and high technology are alleged as current facts, not as current tendencies. Nevertheless, it is a muddy way of saying "The Americans fear an accidental war between the two nuclear powers because the military leaders of China lack experience of combat but control an array of high technology weapons."

Question 2: technically "are" is correct because the subject of the sentence is plural, "military leaders." However, what is meant is that the possibility of accidental war between nuclear powers is to be feared.

  • How about "having combined"? – Zhang Jian Jul 14 '18 at 1:58
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    "Chinese military leaders having combined" implies that those leaders intended to be inexperienced at commanding sophisticated weaponry, which is almost certainly not what the paper was trying to say. Everyone has pointed out that it is badly written. Determining what the paper meant to say cannot be determined by grammatical means, because meaning should determine grammar. Based on my knowledge of the Free Beacon, I strongly suspect that what is intended is something like: – Jeff Morrow Jul 14 '18 at 16:44
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    "The American military is seriously concerned that the inexperience of China's military leaders in actual combat and the speed with which sophisticated weaponry is engaged may lead to accidental war between the two nuclear powers." But I cannot be sure. Bad writing is bad in large part because the intended meaning is unclear. – Jeff Morrow Jul 14 '18 at 16:50
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The Americans fear China's military leaders—untested in combat—combined with an array of new high-technology weaponry is increasing the danger that a careless or reckless act by an overzealous Chinese regional commander will accidentally put the two nuclear-armed powers on the path to war.

The sentence is a mess.

That an array of new high-tech weaponry is in the hands of Chinese military leaders who are untested in battle leads the Americans to fear that an overzealous Chinese regional commander will accidentally put the two nuclear-armed powers on a path to war.

P.S. FumbleFingers makes the point that the original intentionally leaves unstated who the high-tech weaponry belongs to, the Chinese, the Americans, or to both. The original is unclear, so to say that the author is being intentionally elliptical in that regard is, I think, an unwarranted conclusion.

But we could rephrase, preserving the original's ambiguity:

That the Chinese military leaders are untested in battle, combined with the fact that an array of high-tech weaponry could be put to use in any confrontation, leads the Americans to fear that an overzealous Chinese regional commander will accidentally put the two nuclear-armed powers on a path to war.

  • I can understand the new sentence made by you. – Zhang Jian Jul 13 '18 at 13:34
  • I think this is completely wrong! The faulty syntax of the cited text is fully resolved by adding the single word of as per my answer, but your alternative is that simply leads to more problems. You've ended up saying The US is afraid that plural China's military leaders [syntactically irrelevant additional text] is increasing the danger. Your approach depends on the proposition that the text is badly written from start to finish, contains multiple errors, and requires wholesale revision. As I see it, the text is fine apart from one missing two-letter preposition. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '18 at 13:53
  • ...I'd also add that in its original form, the cited text (quite possibly, deliberately) avoids explicitly claiming China has an array of new high-technology weaponry. It simply asserts that such weaponry exists - maybe it's all in the hands of the US, or maybe only China has it (but pragmatically we should probably assume both the reality and the writer's perception is that both nations have it, which is at least part of what's leading to the increased danger). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '18 at 14:10
  • @FumbleFingers: I do not think that Americans have a fear of Chinese military leaders per se, which is what your tweak would suggest. Rather they have a fear that stems from those Chinese military leaders being untested in battle while possessing an array of new high-tech weaponry. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 13 '18 at 14:19
  • You can make many assumptions based on your pragmatic knowledge / opinions re geopolitics - but so far as the cite itself is concerned, not all of them are unambiguously supported by the words as written. Anyway, I could be mistaken, but I'm fairly sure that America has far more "high-tech weaponry" (especially, "cyber-weapons") than any other nation, including China. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '18 at 14:28
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The cited text isn't syntactically valid - it's missing the preposition of...

The Americans' fear of China's military leaders — untested in combat — combined with an array of new high-technology weaponry is increasing the danger that [blah blah] will happen.

That's to say the grammatical "subject" of the sentence is a "compound noun phrase" - X combined with Y (where X = the Americans' fear and Y = the new weaponry).


Regarding the "plurality" of that subject, consider...

Oil combined with vinegar makes a quick and easy salad dressing.

No native speaker would treat the subject (oil combined with vinegar) as a plural, so we would never use make there. You could rationalise that by thinking of the subject as a (syntactically singular) combination, but it's probably more helpful to see combined with vinegar as just an "adjectival complement" (same as, say, oil pressed from olives). In strict syntactic terms, the underlying subject is simply singular oil, regardless of whether that subject is modified by a clause linking it to some other noun.


If anyone really cares, I should point out that even though logically it seems pretty likely that parenthetical untested in combat refers to China's military leaders, syntactically it could equally well refer to the Americans' fear [of those Chinese military leaders].


EDIT: Noting that several other answers and comments claim the cited text is "poorly written", I'd just like to say I completely disagree. Having just skimmed over the entire article, I think it's obvious the writer is very competent (one missing preposition is just a proofreading error, not a sign of poor writing skills).

Bear in mind the text is clearly aimed at competent readers, not inexperienced non-native speakers. The writing style may be relatively "dense" and "erudite", but it's certainly not "defective".

  • So "The Americans' fear is increasing the danger"? Really? – Zhang Jian Jul 13 '18 at 13:36
  • YES! - That's exactly what your cited text is saying. Admittedly, it does "qualify" that assertion by explicitly pointing out that US fear combined with increased weaponry is leading to heightened dangers, but syntactically the base noun serving as the subject of highlighted is in my first (corrected) example is The Americans' fear. That is completely unambiguous as a matter of grammar / syntax. My final point above is completely different, in that the referent of untested in combat really is "ambiguous" at the syntactic level. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '18 at 13:45
  • That's one way to read it, but I don't think that's necessarily the only way, and you've also changed it by turning Americans into Americans'. It would also be valid to say that it's missing that, or is that, as Tromano says, or that is should be are: "The Americans fear China's military leaders...combined with an array of new high-technology weaponry are increasing the danger..." I suspect that the error slipped by because is seems to agree with new high-technology weaponry. I have to come down on the side of "ugly, poorly written, and poorly edited." – stangdon Jul 13 '18 at 14:49
  • @stangdon: I certainly wouldn't go overboard in praising the writer's competence, but your judgement seems a bit harsh there. Another relatively tiny change that would completely resolve all syntactic issues for me is to simply change plural China's military leaders to singular China's [decentralised] military leadership. In which case the word that can optionally be omitted after The Americans fear (and my postulated possessive apostrophe wouldn't be needed either). It ain't that bad though - it's just not written with a view to making life easy for non-native speakers. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 13 '18 at 16:49

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