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Here lies one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself.

The above sentence is on Carnegie's tombstone, I could understand the meaning of the sentence, which means that here lies a man who knew how to get people who are better skilled than him to work with him. However, I'm not quite sure the grammar facts of 'get around him men'. Is 'men' the direct object of get around and 'him' is the indirect object?

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Perhaps it would help to reorder the words in the sentence as follows:

Here lies one who knew how to get men who were cleverer than himself around him.

It means that Carnegie knew how to surround himself with men cleverer than himself. "him men" isn't a grammatical unit; the grammatical units are actually "around him", which is an adverbial phrase of place, and "men who were cleverer than himself", a noun clause that serves as a direct object of the verb "get".

In ordinary English, the sentence boils down to:

X lies here.

The inversion is for effect, and conventional on tombstones. But grammatically, the sentence nevertheless is a subject (the noun clause "one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself") + a verb ("lies") + an adverb ("here").

The noun clause itself has a subject ("one"), then a relative pronoun ("who") that serves as the subject of the verb ("knew"). The direct object of that verb is itself another noun clause: he knew Y, where Y, the direct object, is "how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself".

In that noun clause, the subject is the same as that of the previous verb, "knew", so it's left unstated or implicit. How is an adverb that premodifies "to get around him men who ...". "To get" is the verb; "men who were cleverer than himself" is yet another noun clause that serves as the direct object; and "around him" is an adverbial phrase of place that answers the question "where?"

The direct object, the noun clause "men who were cleverer than himself", has a subject ("men") an an adverbial clause of comparison ("who were cleverer than himself"). This adverbial clause has a relative pronoun ("who") for the subject, a verb ("were"), and a subject complement ("cleverer than himself") that effects the comparison.

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  • My only critique is I don't think the construction relative pronoun + relative clause (in this case "men who were cleverer than himself") makes a noun clause. It is a noun phrase, if I am not mistaken. "The girl who came yesterday didn't like him very much." [The girl who came yesterday] is a noun phrase as subject. – Eddie Kal Dec 11 '20 at 3:12
  • Oh, interesting. You may be right. I'm far from an authority so let's hope someone who is weighs in. – verbose Dec 11 '20 at 3:14
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Here lies one [who knew how to get around him men [who were cleverer than himself.]]

Hope my parenthesizing makes it clear. The two italicized words "one" and "men" are two antecedents whose relative clauses follow them. I have put the relative clauses in brackets. In the phrase at issue "men" is the direct object of the verb "get", "around him" an adverbial. It can be rephrased as "get men who were cleverer than him around him".

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