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Hollywood has long been seduced by the world of high finance. All that money! All that power! The glossy skyscrapers that house hedge funds and investment banks look too polished to contain American psychos and Wall Street wolves. And yet, there they are—an assortment of memorable monsters, backstabbing and clawing their way to the top.This Movie Plot Is the Stuff of HR Nightmares

The structure of the bold sentence is confusing to me. I've never seen a subject that follows that + noun phrase. I thought it means the glossy skyscrapers involving house hedge funds and investment banks look too polished to contain American psychos and Wall Street wolves. Is there any grammatical explanation for it? Or maybe I've misunderstood its structure?

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    It seems you haven't realised that house is a verb. The segment "that house hedge funds and investment banks" is a relative clause, "that" is the pronoun standing for "The glossy skyscrapers" and is the subject of the verb "house". Main verb "look"
    – None
    Oct 13, 2023 at 10:57
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    The words that house hedge funds and investment banks are effectively optional / parenthetical. First parse the sentence without those words, then take account of them separately (as text telling you more about the skyscrapers). Oct 13, 2023 at 10:57
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    Just a note that the answers haven't mentioned - "house" as a noun rhymes with mouse. "House" as a verb has the same vowel but uses a z sound instead of the s, houze.
    – Vicky
    Oct 15, 2023 at 13:07

3 Answers 3

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Your confusion probably comes from the fact that you have not realised that, in the sentence you are quoting, the word house is a verb.

◊ The main clause of the sentence is:

The glossy skyscrapers look too polished to contain American psychos and Wall Street wolves. (a)

look is the main verb of that clause.

◊ Additional information is given about these glossy skyscrapers:

They house hedge funds and investment banks. (b)

Synonyms of house here could be shelter or contain. It means that in these skyscrapers there are "hedge funds and investment banks".

◊ (a) and (b) are blended into one single sentence containing a main clause (a) and a relative clause in which that is a relative pronoun referring to the glossy skyscrapers. House is the verb of the relative clause, the subject of house is that.

The glossy skyscrapers that house hedge funds and investment banks look too polished to contain American psychos and Wall Street wolves.

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  • Is there not a third verb here? We have house, look and then contain. Am I right in thinking of 'to contain' as an auxiliary verb here?
    – sdenham
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:22
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    Yes, you can drop everything after the "to" -- "The glossy skyscrapers look too polished" is a complete sentence -- I'm a little rusty on the formal analysis here but I think "to contain ..." is best described as a prepositional phrase modifying "too polished". For what purpose are they too polished? For the purpose of containing American psychos and Wall Street wolves.
    – zwol
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:42
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    @sdenham Yes, contain is a verb. It is not an auxiliary verb, it is the infinitive form of the verb. "to contain American psychos ..." is a subordinate clause showing purpose, it is introduced by to (short for "in order to" which would be more formal). 'to' versus 'in order to'. There as well.
    – None
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:42
  • @zwol No, you can't "drop everything after the "to"", "to" is part of the subordinate clause (it is not a prepositional phrase), it introduces it. The glossy skyscrapers look too polished (main clause) / to contain American psychos and Wall Street wolves (subordinate clause).
    – None
    Oct 14, 2023 at 18:00
  • @None You misunderstand, I meant to drop the "to" as well as everything after it.
    – zwol
    Oct 15, 2023 at 1:03
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As indicated in the comments, look is the main verb.

that house hedge funds and investment banks is a relative clause defining skyscrapers. This clause is restricted and is normally not separated by commas.

One reason for your misunderstanding is that you may not have realised house is a verb here.

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If I insert some commas, I think that it will be clear what the verb connected to the glossy skyscrapers is.

The glossy skyscrapers, that house hedge funds and investment banks, look too polished to contain American psychos and Wall Street wolves.

In other words, the skyscrapers look too polished.

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  • @FumbleFingers: the commas were solely intended to make it clear what the subordinate clause is. In real life, there is no need to insert a comma before 'that' so there's no need for the closing comma. Oct 13, 2023 at 11:02
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    Does your point require that you specifically use commas to separate out that phrase, or would it be just as true if you used something else, like bold formatting, or, say the '|' character? It really looks like a non-defining relative clause, and that can only confuse learners. I suspect it's also attracting downvotes, if you care about those things
    – gotube
    Oct 13, 2023 at 17:10

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