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I have a question about sentences on the web similar to the following.

  1. John is the second person to resign from the company after Mike.
  2. John is the second person after Mike to resign from the company.

I am trying to analyze the above sentences. Sentence 1 is a short version, I think, of this:

1a. John is the second person to resign from the company after Mike did.

But when I tried to use the same method to analyze sentence 2, I got this strange sentence:

2a. John is the second person after Mike did to resign from the company.

Did I do something wrong in my analysis of sentence 2? Or, is it that sentence 2 is not even standard English, and therefore should not be analyzed in the same way as sentence 1?

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    Why do you think you need to add "did" in there? Why not "resigned"? – ColleenV Mar 15 '16 at 20:33
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    I take it you do realize that regardless of where you position after Mike, and regardless of whether you include did or not, most native speakers would probably assume you meant only two people resigned (Mike, followed by John). But it's perfectly credible (and perhaps even more "logical") to read it as meaning John is the second of two people who resigned after Mike himself resigned. – FumbleFingers Mar 15 '16 at 20:48
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    So, you're not going to answer my question? – ColleenV Mar 16 '16 at 4:27
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    Wordy, shmordie, meatie. You're trying to analyze it, not rephrase it for publication. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '16 at 11:16
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    Are we playing a game of questions? – ColleenV Mar 16 '16 at 12:21
2

Consider these legitimate variants:

After Mike, John is the second person to resign.

John is the second person to resign, after Mike.

John, after Mike, is the second person to resign.

John is, after Mike, the second person to resign.

John is the second person, after Mike, to resign.

Minus the adverbial, after Mike, the sentence reads:

John is the second person to resign.

The idiomatic meaning of second here is absolute, not relative. John is the second, not Mike's ordinal position + 2.

Syntactically, after Mike would modify the predicate "John is {} ".

John is, after Mike...

On the semantic level, the adverbial "after Mike" + "the second" express the idea that Mike has already done the thing mentioned in the main clause, namely, resigned.

After has a temporal meaning that coincides on the semantic level with the ordinal, second.

  • So, the "after" in sentence 1 (in my original post) should be interpreted differently than the "after" in sentence 2a (original post)? – meatie Mar 17 '16 at 17:05
  • @meatie: Your 2a is ungrammatical. "is the second person after Mike did " – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 17 '16 at 18:24
  • But "John is the second person to resign after Mike resigned." could mean that there was another resignee between John and Mike. But it would be ambiguous. If you wanted to state it unambiguously: After Mike and Joe, John is the third person to resign. or ... "Since Mike resigned, there have been two more resignations." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 17 '16 at 18:51

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