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Von Neumann had been working in academia for the US military on problems of computing and defence. In the post-war years Kantorovich was in a similar position in the USSR. Kantorovich and von Neumann had met in Moscow in 1935, little realizing that they would be pitting their prodigious mathematical talents against each other’s country a decade later, a more personalized form of game theory than either might have ever envisaged.


What does the boldfaced part refer to?

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    It refers to whatever it is that is a more personalized form of game theory, namely, Kantorovich and von Neumann pitting their prodigious mathematical talents against each other’s country. Which - pronoun · determiner - used referring to something previously mentioned when introducing a clause giving further information. (Oxford Languages). Mar 7 at 19:48
  • @MichaelHarvey It seems to me that it would have been better to ask what "a more personalized form of game theory" refers to. Mar 7 at 20:11
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    Do you mean 'it would have been better to ask what "a more personalized form of game theory" means'? If your answer is 'yes', then that is what you should have asked, and you should ask another question, and not edit this one. Mar 7 at 20:19

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It refers to the preceding clause: "that they would be pitting their prodigious mathematical talents against each other’s country a decade later".

Note that the relative pronoun "which" has the subject complement "a more personalized form of game theory . . .". Therefore, they should refer to the same thing. In the original sentence, "a more personalized form of game theory . . ." is in apposition to the preceding clause: "that they would be pitting their prodigious mathematical talents against each other’s country a decade later".

Converting a sentence from what you suggest (". . ., which was a more personalized form . . .") to the original text (". . ., a more personalized form . . .") involves deleting the words "which was". This is often called "whiz-deletion"; ELL's sister site ELU has a tag covering that topic, in case you're interested in reading more about it.

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