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I heard this sentence from a speech:

The number of people and even the percentage of the population both living in extreme poverty has really gone down over the past two centuries.

(Yalecourses, "Lecture 4: Fusing Capitalist Economics with Communist Politics: China and Vietnam," published on Youtube)

But I can't understand this part well. In my opinion, "both" is a pronoun which refers to the subject "number... and the percentage...", while "living in extreme poverty" modifies "people", but:

  1. Why is "living in extreme poverty" after "both"?
  2. Why using "has" but not "have" when the subject is refered to by "both"?

The following version will make me feel better:

The number of people living in extreme poverty and even the percentage of the population both have really gone down over the past two centuries.

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    It doesn't make a lot of sense to me either, I think "both" might belong at the start of the sentence ("Both the number of people and even the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty have really gone down over the past century."). You sometimes get "both" in other positions but it's effectively in the middle of a noun phrase there, which is very odd. Where did you hear it? Is it online?
    – Stuart F
    Jun 13, 2023 at 15:58
  • @StuartF Yes, it's from approximately 6:48 in this video: youtube.com/watch?v=4eUS8trd_yI&t=407s
    – shepherd
    Jun 13, 2023 at 16:11
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    It's a mistake.
    – gotube
    Jun 13, 2023 at 16:28
  • @StuartF By the way, when you say "Both the number of people and even the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty have really gone down over the past century", does "living in extreme poverty" modify "people"? I think it only modifies "population". Is that right?
    – shepherd
    Jun 14, 2023 at 2:55
  • @shepherd. I would assume "living in extreme poverty" modifed both number and percentage. As others have said, the word "both" is superfluous and adds nothing. I assume it was said as an afterthought, as Simon says. Dec 11, 2023 at 16:24

3 Answers 3

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Speeches by their nature can be problematic to interpret, as the speaker may edit themselves as they go along. With the cited example, there are a couple of explanations:

  • They may have added the word "both" as an afterthought to stress that the population decreased both absolutely and relatively

  • They may have intended to cite another statistic in addition to absolute poverty, but lost their thread and just cited the one

Either way, I'm not sure it adds much to the meaning, and could simply be omitted. But if you wanted to retain it, the most natural place would be at the beginning.

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  • RIGHT: both as an afterthought used in connected speech. +1
    – Lambie
    Apr 9 at 17:22
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The number of people and even the percentage of the population both living in extreme poverty has really gone down over the past two centuries.

The idea wasn't properly articulated. both could be replaced with too above, but the non-finite clause headed by living would still be in the wrong place.

The number of people living in extreme poverty has gone down over the past two centuries, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the total population.

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  • In connected speech, many things are possible, using both as an afterthought as the professor did here is not weird at all.
    – Lambie
    Apr 9 at 17:21
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I realise this is an old question with no accepted answer, but let's analyse the actual transcript, not the sanitised version posted by the OP:

ah . . . the number of extreme . . . po . . . number of people, and even the percentage of the population - both* - living in extreme poverty has really gone down . . . ah . . .over the ca . . . past centuries . . . a . . .and much of that . . .um . . . much of that decline has come in the last few decades.

*bold emphasis is mine

So what is going on here? The speaker is having a little difficult expressing himself, and is correcting his mistakes as he goes along. Adding "both" here is said with some emphasis, because he probably thinks the listeners might have kind of lost the point of there being two things, probably due to the number of errors he is making.

That's it really. Nothing unusual. It's clearly not perfect, but in his defence, he doesn't seem to be following a written script, and so this is coming straight from his thought processes. In such situations people often do talk like this, and not just in English, but in all languages. We make mistakes and correct ourselves as we go, often haltingly. Not sure I could do much better myself to be honest.

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