2

In their 2020-02-05 column, “Minority report: German politics”, The Economist writes:

In the 1970s West Germany’s two main parties, one centre-left, one centre-right, together captured over 90% of the vote. Today they are among half a dozen competing for Germans’ support. Such fragmentation complicates the business of forming governments. Last October voters in the eastern state of Thuringia returned a particularly complex result, depriving the government led by Bodo Ramelow, regional head of the Left party, of a majority. His left-wing, three-party alliance won just 42 of 90 seats. But today Mr Ramelow hopes that the fractious new parliament will vote to re-confirm him for a second term as the state’s minister-president anyway. Minority governments in Germany rarely last, so what Mr Ramelow hopes to do is unusual: co-operating with liberal or conservative parties where possible to survive the entire term. His first test may be his biggest. The opposition has not ruled out working with him on a case-by-case basis, but they will oppose him today.


What does where refer to? How can we analyse the grammatical structure of that sentence, particularly the portion I have indicated in bold?

5
  • 2
    '... cooperating with liberal or conservative parties in situations/areas (assuming there will be any) in which he finds that such cooperation is possible [in order that he can] / [to] survive the entire term.' – Edwin Ashworth Feb 8 '20 at 14:54
  • Thank you, but how to understand it in grammar? like, how to distinguish it with relative clause? – wtdark Feb 8 '20 at 15:07
  • 2
    'where [this is] possible' is an adverbial showing a restriction on where 'cooperating ...' can take place. CGEL considers both forms examples of a 'fused relative phrase'. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 8 '20 at 15:48
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes, and it would be more easily identifiable if it had the formal punctuation a parenthetical is supposed to have. – Spencer Feb 8 '20 at 15:57
  • @Spencer 'Formal complaints must where possible be made in writing, either by letter (posted or emailed) or online through the Feedback Form, and should provide the following details ... ' [Survivors: Manchester] shows a sensible de-cluttering. Zero punctuation as a valid alternative (used judiciously) around parentheticals was discussed here a long time ago. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 8 '20 at 16:06
1

For:

co-operating with liberal or conservative parties where possible to survive the entire term

Try reading it as:

co-operating with liberal or conservative parties where[ever it is] possible to survive the entire term

Or even:

co-operating with liberal or conservative parties where[ever it is] possible [to do so in order] to survive the entire term

So where possible is modifying the verb co-operating.

More felicitous orderings of constituents than the one they have elected are certainly possible here. For example, it would perhaps have been syntactically clearer had they but placed that phrase directly in front of the verb it’s modifying:

where possible, co-operating with liberal or conservative parties to survive the entire term

It could also be placed immediately afterwards, but then you break up co-operating with:

co-operating, where possible, with liberal or conservative parties to survive the entire term

Whenever you have a sequence of several adverbials strung together in a row, you risk introducing ambiguities as to each one’s exact syntactic attachment point. Semantics can sometimes rule out certain, more outlandish possibilities, but due attention to punctuation and ordering will always be quicker to help the reader than expecting them to disambiguate those possibilities based solely on meaning alone.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.