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A few stars are known which are hardly bigger than the earth, but most of them are so large that hundreds of thousands of Earth's can be packed inside each and leave room to spare.

Usually, an adjectival clause comes after the noun it describes, but here it is taking place after the verb (known) instead of the noun (stars). Secondly, the verb 'leave' is working either as a main verb or as a bare infinitive.

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    The relative clause "which are hardly bigger than the earth" is said to be postposed, because it occurs in postposed position, at the end of the clause containing its antecedent. It's better to call "leave" the 'predicator', or simply 'head' of the relative clause, rather than the ill-named 'main verb'
    – BillJ
    Commented May 29 at 7:11
  • I would repeat "stars" instead of saying "most of them" : "but most stars are so large..."
    – TimR
    Commented May 29 at 17:05
  • Do this: A few stars, hardly bigger than the earth, are known
    – Lambie
    Commented May 29 at 18:20

3 Answers 3

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Yes, that's correct. Normally the relative clause follows the verb, but here (and following the "end weight" principle) it is moved to the end of the clause. The alternative

A few stars {which are hardly bigger than the Earth} are known.

suffers from the problem of having a long and complex subject that delays the verb. The author's solution to this is to place the relative clause at the end. It is correct grammar.

The word "leave" is bare infinitive. Compare "I can eat ice cream and be happy". It means "I can be happy by eating ice cream". Or in the Earth example, You could leave space even after packing hundreds of thousands of Earths into a star.

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  • Who would write that? A few stars, hardly bigger than the earth, are known etc.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 29 at 18:21
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You could also write:

A few stars hardly bigger than the earth are known, but most stars are so large that ....

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"Leave" is both a main verb and a bare non-finite verb. The two entities are not mutually exclusive. Verbs can be divided as main (non-auxiliary) vs. auxiliary. As a separate matter, verbs can be divided as finite (tensed) vs. non-finite.

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  • I strongly recommend that you drop the term 'main verb'. There is a clause for every verb, so all verbs could in theory be called 'main', but that's pointless. The catenative-auxiliary analysis is preferable, where auxiliaries are just as much 'main verbs' as lexical ones.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 29 at 14:49
  • @BillJ Few learners need to use CGEL terminology.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 29 at 18:23
  • In the same way, every auxiliary is a word (part of the lexis), so all verbs could in theory be called "lexical" (assuming your objection is denotational). Labels don't have to be hyper-literal.
    – ishtar
    Commented May 30 at 20:35
  • @ishtar No: auxiliary verbs are verbs with the NICE properties. This is what sets them apart from lexical verbs. Basic elementary grammar. Note that in, for example "She is [writing a novel]", the verb "is" is just as much a 'main' verb as "writing" is, though the former is an auxiliary.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 9 at 8:29
  • @BillJ Thank you for telling me what auxiliary verbs are, but you seem to be deliberately missing the point.
    – ishtar
    Commented Jun 9 at 12:55

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