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What is the meaning of "relative importance" in the sentence below?

Overseas connections were almost restricted to the western maritime powers, in particular to Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands; and the relative importance of powers within this group had recently been greatly changed.

I know the meaning of "relative" and "importance" respectively, but somehow I can't understand the meaning of the collocation "relative importance" in the context above. Could you explain it in detail please?

  • You might tell us what each word means to you (relevant to your quote). I know you know, but I can't see what that is. – user3169 May 31 '16 at 3:55
  • Relative means in relation to something. So does it mean that the importance of all the countries in relation to a certain thing or issue. Am I right? If not, then please correct me. – Policewala May 31 '16 at 4:02
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In your example, the meaning of relative:

  1. related each to the other; dependent upon or referring to each other" ⇒ to stay in the same relative positions"

So it is the relative importance between Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. Each one compared to the others.

In another usage it could refer to an outside element, but in your example "within this group" tells us that isn't the case.

  • Thanks user3169. Would re-phrasing it in the following way change the meaning of the sentence in any way compared to the original sentence? "The relative importance of each power had recently been greatly changed". Does this mean the same as the above sentence? – Policewala May 31 '16 at 4:52
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    I think it is OK, but write "their power" instead of "each power". – user3169 May 31 '16 at 5:08
  • Why their power? By each power I meant those countries. – Policewala May 31 '16 at 5:16
  • "each power" seems wrong somehow (it is a native speaker problem...). If you really want to use each, you could write "The relative importance of the power of each country had recently been greatly changed". – user3169 May 31 '16 at 5:22
  • But in the above sentence each power refers back to the countries in question and not to their powers, per se. Please have a read at the original sentence, Sir/ ma'am. – Policewala May 31 '16 at 5:33

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