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However, lacking accounts by conquered people about their interactions with the Incas, it is unknown how much of the information of the Inca conquest as related by the ruling class is factual.(From TOEFL)

In this case, isn't it necessary for the subject of the dependent clause and the subject of the independent clause in accordance?

However, I don't deem it logical to think the subject of the participle clause to be "it", or the real subject of the independent clause "how much of the information of the Inca conquest as related by the ruling class is factual."

Please explain it to me!

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    The understood subject of the lacking clause is "we". It can be paraphrased as "Since we are lacking accounts by conquered people ..., it is unknown ...
    – BillJ
    Oct 24 '20 at 10:34
  • It is comprehensible to say the lacking subject is "we", but why it seems to contradict to the rule that the subject of the participle clause should accord with the subject of the independent clause? Oct 24 '20 at 12:16
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    Lacking here looks like a "dangling participle" to me, so it's a bad example to include in text being used to teach "correct" English to non-native speakers. I'd suggest replacing subject-less lacking by a more suitable phrase, such as in the absence of. Oct 24 '20 at 12:27
  • Normally, the understood subjects of the adjunct clause and the main clause are the same, but the danger from adjunct non-finite clauses with missing subjects that are not syntactically determined is often exaggerated. I don't think there's any real ambiguity about what the subject of the adjunct is in your example, particularly if the preceding discourse makes it clear. I don't see any real problem with having different subjects in this particular example, though it's acceptability for most speakers is probably only marginal.
    – BillJ
    Oct 24 '20 at 12:42
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You have discovered the dangling participle: a participle that modifies a noun that isn't there (or a different noun than the one intended). It is poor English, and you are right to call it out as an error.

Here is one way to correct it:

However, lacking accounts by conquered people about their interactions with the Incas, we cannot know how much of the information of the Inca conquest as related by the ruling class is factual.

The participle lacking modifies the noun we.

(I would also remove the word "as", but that's a different problem.)

Another way to correct it is to put lacking into a subordinate clause with its own subject and linking verb, like this:

However, since accounts by conquered people about their interactions with the Incas are lacking, it is unknown how much of the information of the Inca conquest as related by the ruling class is factual.

And there are many more ways to correct it, of course, including rewording from scratch:

All the information we have about the Inca conquest comes from the Incas, not from the peoples they conquered. We can only guess what the Incas omitted or distorted.

I can't tell if this represents the intended meaning of the original sentence, but this is clear, straightforward, grammatical English.


As dangling participles go, the one you found is not so bad. A reader could perhaps understand the lacking clause as a huge adverb that modifies is unknown. Perhaps one could regard the lacking clause as a sort of absolute construction. But those interpretations are stretches that a writer should not ask a reader to perform. The original sentence is clumsy and, as you observed, illogical, even if the meaning is passably clear. It's a mistake, the result either of carelessness or pretentiousness. People do it, though, even educated people, so if you read enough English, you'll need to learn to trudge through it and extract the intended meaning.

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  • Hi! Thanks for you answer. And I want to ask u a question here since I can't privately message you. In you profile, u write "If you don't know the meaning of a word, and you read a dictionary definition, then you probably still won't know the meaning of the word. If you memorize 10,000 rules of English grammar, you still won't know English grammar." If that's the case, what's your suggestions to really learn English? Mar 30 at 11:50
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    @mirthspritzsultryobscurantism Mostly from experience with communicating in English: listening, speaking, reading, and writing; partly from learning explicitly stated principles of grammar and partly from definitions and etymologies. I just mean that language is too complex to learn from abstract descriptions of it alone. Abstract descriptions are always simplified approximations. But they can help a lot. They just need to be used as a supplement for experience, not a replacement for it.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Apr 3 at 0:59
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I try to understand many sentences by removing a comma-enclosed phrase. That gives the sentence:

However it is unknown how much of the information of the Inca conquest as related by the ruling class is factual.

For me the original sentence is fine and it can be understood as:

We are lacking accounts by conquered people about their interactions with the Incas. Therefore it is unknown how much of the information of the Inca conquest as related by the ruling class is factual.

It would help my understanding of the question if you explained what you understand to be the "dependent clause", the "independent clause" and their "subjects". Then in the final paragraph the term "participle clause" is used. I believe that these sorts of technical terms are not commonly used by native English speakers - I do not use them.

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  • Maybe I misused some of the terms.:( But considering the following example: Waiting for a bus, a brisk fell on my head. Does this sound correct? I was told the sentence is wrong as the subject of "waiting" should be "me" as opposed to "a brisk." Thus, I think it is kinda the same situation as I posted. Oct 24 '20 at 10:11
  • I do not know about misusing the terms, but they are not commonly used except by scholars of the English language. Hence my request for you to explain what you mean when you use them. I think your example that starts "Waiting..." has a different structure. I think you mean "brick" as "brisk" means quickly or energetic.
    – AdrianHHH
    Oct 24 '20 at 10:39
  • Yeah, you right, I meant "brick." But could you explain to me why the sentence starting with" waiting" is of different structure? Oct 24 '20 at 11:03
  • They have a different number of commas.
    – AdrianHHH
    Oct 24 '20 at 11:47
  • In your example, it was clearly not the brick that was waiting for the bus. However, the clause beginning it is unknown doesn't have a subject which obviously jars with the first part of the sentence. Oct 24 '20 at 12:12

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