Our best hope in keeping our best reporters, copy editors, photographers, artists - everyone - is to work harder to make sure they get the help they are demanding to reach their potential.

I have two different understandings of "make sure they get the help they are demanding to reach their potential"

I parse it like that:

(1) make sure { (that) they get the help [they are demanding] to reach their potential }.

"they are demanding" modifies "the help". So it means that"they get the help so as to reach their potential".

(2)make sure { (that) they get the help [they are demanding to reach their potential ] }.

"they are demanding to reach their potential" modifies "the help". It just means that "they get the help."

I want to know: How to judge when to end an attributive clause?

  • 1
    Usually, when demand is used with to-infinitive, it would be either "demand to see" or "demand to know". So, I think "demand(ing) to reach" is unlikely, and I would choose to read it as (1). May 15 '14 at 4:33
  • @DamkerngT. I think in this case, however, that to reach is an infinitive of purpose, not a complement of demand. May 16 '14 at 1:11

You are quite right. The sentence has exactly the ambiguity you describe, viz. does to reach their potential reflect the purpose behind the journalists' demand or the purpose behind the editor's help?

It's even worse than you think - the writer may mean both.

And I am afraid that there's nothing in either the syntax or the semantics to determine which the author means.

So you have to fall back on pragmatics. The sentence purports to be the final line of a letter, apparently from one editor to another, which describes why one of the recipient’s reporters is seeking a position with the writer’s newspaper, despite the fact that he loves his job:

The reporter believes that good stories spring from good questions, but his editors usually ask how long the story will be, when it will be in, where it can play, and what the budget is.

He longs for conversations with an editor who will help him turn his good ideas into great ones. He wants someone to get excited about what he's doing and to help him turn his story idea upside down and inside out, exploring the best ways to report it. He wants to be more valuable for your paper. That's what you want for him, too, isn't it?

In context, it appears that it is the reporter who earnestly desires to reach his potential—and the editor urges his colleague to give the reporter the opportunity because “That’s what you want for him, too.”

Context, context, context.

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