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I read a sentence from this article in the Economist but I can't understand its structure.

The sentence is:

For a country that sees itself as egalitarian, this smacks of class privilege—those going to Gymnasium tend to be disproportionately well-off.

I couldn't find the predicate of this sentence.

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    I'm just curious, did you recognize smacks as a verb? – J.R. Jul 11 '14 at 2:17
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    Ahhh..I notice that smacks is a verb here.I only knew the noun definition and I was confused by the clauses.Thank you very much! With the answers below I understand now. – Kyo Jul 12 '14 at 11:43
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This is actually two complete clauses joined together with punctuation. It's not ideal style, but it is fairly common in journalism.

"For a country that sees itself as egalitarian, this smacks of class privilege"

Core sentence: This smacks of class privilege. Meaning, "this has the appearance of class privilege"--of giving special access to public goods to one particular social class or subgroup of society (usually the wealthy).

Add the modifying prepositional phrase "For a country that sees itself as egalitarian". Prepositional phrases are often used at the beginning of a sentence to "set the stage" or describe the general circumstances, without it necessarily being obvious which word they modify. "For a country that sees itself as egalitarian" means that the appearance of special privileges for the wealthy is particularly shocking, because the country's citizens tend to think that they have a pretty equal society.

The second sentence explains the first:

those going to Gymnasium tend to be disproportionately well-off.

"Gymnasium" is a type of college preparatory school in Germany and Scandinavia. This is identifying the class privilege mentioned in the first part: children of the wealthy are more likely to get the education that prepares them for university.

Structurally, the two clauses are complete. Each one has a subject ("this" and "those") and a predicate (everything else). It's probably just confusing because the sentences are fused together with a dash rather than being clearly separated with a period.

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I've tagged the sentence with grammatical marks and brackets for clauses. Then I transformed it into something a little easier to mentally parse. (Bold words are for visual coordination and to see changed text.)

  • For a country that sees itself as egalitarian, this smacks of class privilege—those going to Gymnasium tend to be disproportionately well-off.

  • [For a country that sees itself as egalitarianNP], [thisSUBJ1 smacksV1 of class privilegeV1-Mod]—[those going to GymnasiumSUBJ2 tend to beV2 disproportionately well-offV2-Obj].

  • [ThisSUBJ1 smacksV1 of class privilegeV1-Mod]: [those going to GymnasiumSUBJ2 tend to beV2 disproportionately well-offV2-Obj] [for a country that sees itself as egalitarianNP].

  • Whatsmacks of class privilegeSUBJ1 isV1-Copula that [those going to GymnasiumSUBJ2 tend to beV2 disproportionately well-offV2-Obj], [which contrasts with a country that sees itself as egalitarianNP].

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