1. Their insistence that the meetings should be held at lunch-time angered the staff. (correct)

  2. *Their insistence was that the meetings should be held at lunch time. (incorrect)

  3. His fear that he might lose his job was increasing. (correct)

  4. *That he might lose his job was increasing. (incorrect)

  5. His fear is that he might lose his job. (correct)

I was reading about subordinate clauses, and came to know that they are not same as noun phrase. Though sometimes they might act similarly, they are not same.

Well, I found those sentences in CGEL, some are marked as correct and some are as incorrect.

My question is why #2 is incorrect, when #5 is correct?

Please help.

  • Great question. All I got with research is that "insistence" is not "insist".... But I don't know, that doesn't seem to explain the fifth one.
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 11, 2015 at 20:10
  • Would #2 be correct with 'preference' instead instead of 'insistence'? I know those two words are slightly different in meaning, but I can't quite see how they are so different as to change the correctness of #2. Jan 12, 2015 at 20:10
  • 1
    The structure is the same, but "insistence" means their attitude, not the thing they were insisting on. You could say their "insistence" (attitude) bothered you, but that you nevertheless let them have their "preference" (thing preferred). Compare "Persistence", which is similar (although one persists IN doing something, whereas one insists ON doing something.) Jan 13, 2015 at 5:36
  • Note that examples #2 and #4 in the OP's post are actually, really, truly, for sure, very much so, quite, unquestionably, super duper, ungrammatical -- i.e., they are "incorrect".
    – F.E.
    Jan 14, 2015 at 18:28

3 Answers 3

  1. [Their insistence that the meetings should be held at lunch-time] angered [the staff]. (correct)

  2. [Their insistence] was [that the meetings should be held at lunch time]. (incorrect)

  3. [His fear that he might lose his job] was [increasing]. (correct)

  4. [That he might lose his job] was [increasing]. (incorrect)

  5. [His fear] is [that he might lose his job]. (correct)

From Collins Dictionary, insistence is

  1. the quality of being insistent
  2. the act or an instance of insisting

Some dictionaries list demand as a synonym for "insistence", but it is easy to confuse "the act of demanding" sense of demand, which has a meaning similar to "insistence", with "the thing demanded" sense of demand which is not synonymous.

In #1 "insistence" angers the staff and the subordinate clause describes the kind of insistence. It doesn't equate the insistence with the policy of having meetings at lunch-time. This is a grammatical construction.

In #2 "insistence" is the subject of the clause, so the sentence says "insistence" is "meetings should be held at lunch time". That isn't valid because the "act of insisting" is not the same thing as "a policy". You could say something like:

[Their insistence that was a source of anger for the staff] was [unreasonable].

This is grammatical (but not idiomatic) because "the act of insisting" can be "a source of anger". "Insistence" is the subject of the clause "that was a source of anger".

In #3 "fear" is increasing, and the subject of the clause describing the type of fear he has. That is grammatical.

In #4 the sentence doesn't have a subject that the clause "that he might lose his job" describes, so the sentence is a fragment and not grammatical. @F.E. mentions in the comments, a way that the sentence could be constructed is:

[That he might lose his job] was [his biggest concern]

In #5 "fear" equals "that he might lose his job" and that's OK because "a fear" can be "losing your job". Fear is the subject of the clause.

  • 1
    'Their insistence' means the demand of the employees, not a policy. Also, your final example works better as 'Their insistence, which was a source of anger for the staff, was unreasonable.' As it stands, it is very difficult to follow.
    – Karen
    Jan 12, 2015 at 21:46
  • 1
    @Karen I was trying to parallel the existing examples, not write a great sentence. And my point was that the incorrect example was equating the insistence with a policy, which is why it was incorrect.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 12, 2015 at 21:53
  • +1, for it seems that you've explained what is wrong with #2. :) -- (That the staff wasn't necessarily angered by the idea of the lunchtime meeting--the staff may have been neutral to that idea--but rather that they were angered at someone's insistence that the meetings should be held at lunchtime. That is, the staff was angered by that insistence.) Perhaps you could also explain why #4 is ungrammatical?
    – F.E.
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:12

I think, #2 is incorrect because of the inaccurate use of the word "insistence".
"Insistence" can stand for many things.
For the above question asked, it is wrong because the writer could have meant "insistence" as "insistent".

Insistent -> Happening for a long time and very difficult to ignore

Example of statement:

We listened to the insistent crashing of waves on the beach.

From the statement above, it can be rephrased as:

We listened to the insistence of waves crashing on the beach.

With the rephrased statement above, you can see the multiple meanings of "insistence" and the term is not objective to one. Hence, the reason of it being incorrect is inaccurate usage of word.

With that said, I'm not sure. This is just my opinion and based on my amateur reasearch. I'm yet to be corrected. I'm a student myself. =)
Richard Navindran

  • Richard, welcome to ELL.SE! If you had any Qs about the workings of the site, you can visit the help center or take a tour if you like. By the way, I disagree with you in two ways. [...]
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 12, 2015 at 8:18
  • [...] First, this is a lesson about subordinate clauses; and therefore the reason for #2 to be wrong is supposedly lying within the concepts of this grammar lesson. And second, the "meaning" is well-expressed in #2. If it's to be "insistence"'s fault, I think it is because of the incorrect usage, but instead of "insistence" we should have had "insist".
    – M.A.R.
    Jan 12, 2015 at 8:23
  • 2
    I think that you are on to something, but could state it more clearly. Insistence is act of insisting or the quality of being insistent. Neither of those can be equated with "the meeting should be held at lunch time". I can insist that the meeting be held at lunch time, and my insistence on the timing could be the source of anger, but my insistence isn't the same thing as what I'm insistent on. Do you see what I mean?
    – ColleenV
    Jan 12, 2015 at 18:32
  • 1
    > For the above question asked, it is wrong because the writer could have meant "insistence" as "insistent". Wouldn't changing the word from noun (albeit an ugly nominalization) to adjective make the example incorrect? Honestly, #2 looks grammatically acceptable to me.
    – wordsmythe
    Jan 12, 2015 at 19:08
  • In your examples, insistent modifies crashing, not waves. So it should be the insistence of crashing waves. As written, it doesn't make sense.
    – Karen
    Jan 12, 2015 at 22:01

# 2 is an awkward usage of the work insistence, but I can't see why it would be completely wrong.

Insistence here is used as a synonym for demand. Insistence is the act of insisting. Rephrasing with demand instead of insistence is more clearly correct.

Their demand was that the meetings should be held at lunch time

Unless someone else has a better answer, I'd suggest that the incorrect designation is wrong, and number 2 should be marked correct.

  • 1
    It is the act of demanding that insistence is synonymous with, not the demand itself. The terrorists gave the police a list of their insistences. would be wrong.
    – ColleenV
    Jan 14, 2015 at 0:50
  • I don't think #2 is correct, but I agree the incorrectness is due to the way the word insistence is used; there is nothing wrong with the grammatical construction per se, as #5 shows. Jan 21, 2015 at 12:33

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