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Source: http://news.yahoo.com/sanctions-taint-norway-love-affair-russian-liberators-151343347.html

The German Wehrmacht had carried out a "scorched earth" policy, laying waste to an area "one and a half times the size of Denmark", according to Petterson.

After liberation, the local inhabitants who had evaded a German-ordered mass evacuation from the area, were allowed to move into the few buildings still standing.

First, how do you understand that grammatically? And second, what does that exactly mean? Are the buildings still in place after so many years or were they standing there after the mass evacuation?

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After liberation, the local inhabitants who had evaded a German-ordered mass evacuation from the area, were allowed to move into the few buildings still standing.

The part still standing is an active participle (traditionally called "present participle"). The easiest way to understand it is to think of it as an adjective modifying the noun in front of it, which is in our case: the few building.

As for its meaning, between "the buildings [are] still in place after so many years" and "they [were] standing there after the mass evacuation", the latter is more correct. I'd personally say: they were still standing "when the moving took place".

Arguably, we could read it both ways, but the context would suggest this meaning. If the writer wanted to mean "the buildings are still here", I believe they would have phrased it differently, such as "the few buildings still standing several years later" or "the few buildings still standing until today".

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  • I don't understand your possible alternative meaning to still standing. It's logically and grammatically certain they were still standing at the time referred to (when the locals were allowed to move back in to them). The status of the buildings earlier, when those locals were avoiding evacuation, isn't really relevant. Oct 25 '14 at 1:19
  • @FumbleFingers I agree that the alternative is unlikely; however, it's a different alternative. In some uncommon contexts, the other meaning I think possible is "still standing today (at the time the speaker says it or writes it)", which I believe is what confuses our OP. Oct 25 '14 at 1:28
  • I don't think so. You can have any number of theories about what might have happened earlier, but the actual words cited here specifically refer to the time at which the building were still standing. They make no reference to any earlier time, and it would be perverse in the extreme to jump out of the past tense narrative and assume it might mean still standing now (at time of speaking/writing). Oct 25 '14 at 1:37
  • @FumbleFingers I think DT has hold of the right end of the stick here and that in fact OP is perplexed to understand whether still standing has present or past reference. You and I regard that reading as "perverse"; but a non-native speaker may only have encountered still with Speech-Time reference and not understand that it can have Reference-Time reference as well. We've encountered similar misunderstandings with now, and the opposite misunderstanding with terms like yesterday and next week which are anchored in Speech Time. Oct 25 '14 at 15:27
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Standing, modified by the adverb still, is a present participle modifying buildings. Many contemporary grammarians hold phrases of this sort to be relative clauses reduced by Whiz-deletion: that is, that still standing represents what's left of the clause which were still standing.

The timeframe of the clause, including the adjunct still standing, is established by the opening preposition phrase after liberation. Some of the locals evaded the German evacuation order and stayed in the area; after liberation, these were allowed to move into the remaining habitable buildings.

We may suspect that little new construction, if any, took place after the evacuation, and that the buildings still standing after liberation were also standing at the time of the evacuation; but the sentence does not say that that was the case.


Whiz is linguist humour, representing Wh- + IS, where Wh- stands for any relative pronoun and IS stands for the appropriate finite form of BE.

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  • Of course, that final clause could have been "still wearing temporary clothing issued by the liberating army". It's only logic that tells us the referent of the deleted "which" must be the buildings, not the earlier-mentioned locals. Oct 25 '14 at 1:31
  • @FumbleFingers True. It is conceivable that the remaining locals who were too starved or tortured to stand were not permitted to move into the buildings. Oct 25 '14 at 2:00
  • Now that interpretation I'm not sure about! It seems to me if "still standing" occurs at the end of the sentence it can only provide additional information about whatever we decide it applies to (the locals or the buildings). For me, it would need to come immediately after "local inhabitants" in order to be parsed as restricting that set. In that earlier position there would effectively be a deleted "who were", but if we perversely interpret it as applying to the locals in the actual text as written, there would be an implied "while they (all the locals) were still standing". Oct 25 '14 at 12:32
  • @FumbleFingers Quite so. My example was intended to suggest the absurdity of requiring that a postposed participle be understood as a reduced relative. Oct 25 '14 at 13:21
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Mostly ditto DamkerngT, but I'd quibble with his interpretation of the context of "still standing".

The first paragraph of your quote says that the German army was deliberately destroying everything in its path. So when they say that "after liberation", which would have been a few years later, people re-occupied the buildings "still standing", I would assume that to mean, "the buildings that were not destroyed by the Wehrmacht during the invasion and occupation". That is, the buildings were not destroyed by the evacuation nor by the passage of time, but by the shells from German tanks and artillery. (Or however they went about destroying them.)

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