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I think that the following text chunk in bold is wrong:

I have often heard my father caution him against his wild recklessness, but he would only laugh, and say that the tumble that killed him would be from the back of a horse yet unfoaled.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars.

But I do not know. The translation to other language from this sentence is like follows:

The horse has not yet been born, from the back of which he will fall and get killed.

I can understand all words in the original sentence, but I can not find this meaning in this sentence.

In a case I am wrong would you like to explain why is original sentence correct and maybe why is it similar to the translation?

I would like to have an explanation why such sentence structure is correct (or incorrect) and how can I learn to understand this sentence structure?

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    For us city slickers, M-W: foal: n. a young animal of the horse family; v. to give birth to a foal. – Em. Aug 16 '20 at 8:59
  • @Em., thank you, but I know this word. I can not understand why such sentence is in the book and is it correct? I can good understand the sentence The horse was yet been unfoaled, from the back of which he will fall and get killed. What I can not understand: the tumble ... would be from the back of a horse ... It makes me crazy! :-) I can understand all words in this sentence. – Bharata Aug 16 '20 at 9:33
  • I didn't mean that comment for you. I left it there for everyone's convenience because "foal" isn't a common word in my experience. I expected people to google it, but I thought putting it in the post was "too far". It was also a self-deprecating joke as I am a city person who doesn't know much about country life and raising animals. Anyway, please edit those clarifications into your post ("the tumble ..."). :) – Em. Aug 16 '20 at 10:09
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    Of course the original is not 'wrong' - it is what Burroughs wrote! Both versions say the same thing, but the original emphasises the 'tumble' and the translation emphasises the non-existence of the horse he might fall from. – Kate Bunting Aug 16 '20 at 14:12
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    But, @KateBunting, how is OP supposed to know that this doesn't involve a misprint, or even some obsolete structure or usage? It doesn't, but OP is relying on us to know that. – Gary Botnovcan Aug 16 '20 at 14:46
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In the clause in question, "the tumble that killed him" is the subject, "would be" is the verb, and "from the back of a horse yet unfoaled" is the subject complement.

The verbs "tumble" and "fall" have matching nouns.  We can talk about "a tumble" as easily as we can talk about "tumbling".  With the verb, we can say "he tumbled from the horse's back".  With the noun, we can say "his tumble was from the horse's back".  That's the structure used in Burroughs's original.

The tumble that killed him would be from the back of a horse yet unfoaled.

The horse has not yet been born, from the back of which he will fall and get killed.

That is a reasonable paraphrase of Burroughs's original, although it does shift the emphasis from the fall to the horse.  Let's see whether we can put this idea back into Burroughs's own words.

the horse has not yet been born
the horse is not yet born
the horse is yet unborn
the horse is yet unfoaled

he will fall from the back of this kind of horse
he will fall from the back of a horse [that is] yet unfoaled

he will fall and get killed
a fall will kill him
a tumble will kill him

the tumble that kills him will be from the back of a horse yet unfoaled

he would say that the tumble that killed him would be from the back of a horse yet unfoaled

It does all boil down to a simple boast:  There is no horse alive today that could throw him to his death. 

  • For your work and your time you will get +1 from me, but you have tried to explain the word meaning or maybe sentence chunks meaning and I need explanation about full sentence meaning and structure. Would you like to read 2 last sentences in my question again, please. – Bharata Aug 16 '20 at 15:11
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    Can you explain what part of the structure still confuses you, @Bharata? I started with the overall structure: "the tumble is from a horse's back" -- subject, verb, complement. – Gary Botnovcan Aug 16 '20 at 15:16
  • I wrote it already – full sentence meaning and structure. And would you like to read 2 last sentences in my question again, please. I would like to learn to understand such form of sentences. Maybe you could add some similar sentences with explanation. – Bharata Aug 16 '20 at 15:27
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    We know from the previous sentence that they are talking about riding. He says that, if he is ever going to be killed in a fall, it will be from a horse that hasn't been born yet. What makes it confusing is that, until you have read the last part of the sentence, the tumble that killed him could sound like something that has already happened (except that, obviously, a man can't talk about himself as having been killed). – Kate Bunting Aug 16 '20 at 16:44
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    Yeah, @Kate, the tense of the so-called reported speech might be confusing, but that's not where OP seems to be pointing. On the other hand, OP is looking at the transition to "his tumble was from the horse's back" and claiming to still not see it. – Gary Botnovcan Aug 16 '20 at 16:58
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The verb to foal means, of a mare, to give birth to a foal. See for instance the definition given by Cambridge https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/foal

So that justifies the translation you found. I would have said that

the fall that killed him would be from a horse which had yet to be born.

As an aside before the birth a pregnant mare is said to be in foal.

  • For your helping wish and your time you will get +1 from me, but you have to read the question in the next time because I had wrote already that I can understand all words in the original sentence. Thank you anyway! – Bharata Aug 16 '20 at 19:57

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