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She tries not to react but knows she has by the smirk on Frank’s face, the threat in the not-so-veiled statement plain.

It seems to me as an unusual structure. Could you please explain it to me?

Hadley & Grace by Suzanne Redfearn

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  • The Pros and Cons of Writing a Novel in Present Tense – writersdigest.com - Con #1: you get questions like this, that even throw native speakers for a loop. - Rewrite the whole sentence in past tense and I think you'll get it. – Mazura Jan 23 at 3:50
  • there should be a comma after the "has". that's all there is to it. – Fattie Jan 23 at 19:38
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    Unrelated to the missing comma (which could just be a typo), be aware that the sentence is very badly written anyway, the "follow on part" is a bit undeclared, it's more like spoken English than a well-written sentence. – Fattie Jan 23 at 19:40
  • That sentence needs to be taken out back and shot. It would be less obtuse if it read "...knows she has failed" (which, technically, changes the meaning of "has", though not of the sentence as a whole), but even then it's pretty awful. I'm a native speaker, and I don't think I understood it until I read djna's answer. (At least I had to read it several times...) – Matthew Jan 24 at 1:04
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Has by is not a single expression; rather, it's the end of one and the start of another.

She tries not to react but knows she has by the smirk on Frank’s face

is in two parts:

She tries not to react but knows she has

by the smirk on Frank’s face

We might expand the sentence to make this easier to understand:

She tries not to react but knows she has reacted. She can tell that her reaction is visible by the smirk on Frank’s face.

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    In spoken English there will be a slight pause between has and by specifically to demarcate this. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Jan 23 at 9:00
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    @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic-: I don't think I'd literally pause between has and by, but I'd pronounce has a bit longer -- more like how it's pronounced at the end of a sentence than how it's pronounced in a phrase like "has PP" or "has N". – ruakh Jan 23 at 22:24
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    Perhaps more simply, "She tries not to react but knows she has [reacted] by the smirk on Frank’s face, the threat in the not-so-veiled statement plain." – A N Jan 24 at 3:04
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It is not really unusual or uncommon in English. It is simply inserting a clause with the reason into the sentence. That is, it would be reasonable to write

She tries not to react but knows she has, the threat in the not-so-veiled statement plain.

Inserting "by the smirk on Frank's face" just provides the reason she knows. It could equally well be written

She tries not to react but knows she has (by the smirk on Frank’s face), the threat in the not-so-veiled statement plain.

or

She tries not to react but, by the smirk on Frank’s face, she knows she has, the threat in the not-so-veiled statement plain.

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A more formal or unambiguous form would be "...but she knows she has done so by ...". In answer to questions like "have you done this" or "have you been there", some people will answer simply "yes I have" and others will answer "yes I have done" or "yes I have been". The preference may be regional; the fuller forms I associate with UK speech.

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  • How is "have done" or "have been" related? That's a different sort of construction, since "so" is missing, no? – wjandrea Jan 23 at 2:26
  • I believe that here, "so" is equivalent to "this" or "that" to mean "the action previously referenced". As in, "I promised to read the book, and I did so". Somehow that seems more idiomatic. "This" or "that" would be equivalent in meaning, but perhaps a little confusing, since "this" and "that" are more frequently used to contrast near-vs-far, or to add stress. I might say "I promised to read the book, and I did so; I also promised to burn it, but I didn't do that." – CCTO Jan 26 at 21:16

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