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H is a subset of G containing those elements of G that commute with every element of G.

Clearly, H contains the elements.

Now let's take an another example.

The boy is the son of the man standing here.

Here the man is standing.
Is it not confusing?
In the first one we use present participle form after G and we get a meaning and in the 2nd one we use present participle form after 'man' and we get a different meaning.
How to recognize the precise meaning?

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  • It perhaps helps if you write the second one in full, including the words which are elided. The boy is the son of the man (who is) standing here. In other words there is an invisible relative pronoun present which makes is standing here the predicate of man. In the first example containing begins an adverbial clause qualifying the main verb of which H is the subject.
    – WS2
    Dec 19, 2021 at 19:19

2 Answers 2

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H is a subset of G containing those elements of G that commute with every element of G.

The sentence does not make any sense if "containing those elements..." refers to G, because by definition G contains all elements of G, not only those with a special property. Therefore, the modifier "containing those elements..." must belong to "a subset of G", namely H.


The boy is the son of the man standing here.

When deciding how to group words, usually we follow this rule: we group together the words which are closest to each other. If that is not possible, we try to group them with words further away.

In the case of this sentence, it is quite difficult to group "the boy" with "standing here". The meaning is: "the man is standing here, not the boy".


If you want to say that the boy was standing, you will say:

The boy standing here is the son of the man.

Now it is clear that the boy is standing, but the sentence is incomplete. Because we have "the man" (one specific), but we have no rule to know which one. This is an additional reason why "standing here" cannot refer to the boy in the original sentence.


Sometimes, grouping can be very ambiguous, and (almost) impossible to disambiguate without knowing the original intention. The example below is very clear:

The girl came to her mother laughing.

We cannot be sure if the girl was laughing, or the mother.

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  • 2
    If the mother were laughing, would anyone say it that way rather than to her laughing mother? Nov 27, 2019 at 17:34
  • Sorry, I did not see this comment before. Your proposed version is good also, and most likely less confusing. However, I sense a change in meaning (note: I am NOT a native speaker of English). "Laughing mother" suggest a general characteristic of the mother (something like, she is always laughing), but "mother laughing" is what was happening at the time of observation. Maybe a native speaker of English could shed some light for both of us.
    – virolino
    Jan 26, 2023 at 10:25
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It shouldn't be confusing. Here is why:

The boy is the son of the man (who is) standing here.

The boy (who is) standing here is the son of the man.

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