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This is an excerpt from a 2010 book titled "Do Fish Feel Pain?" by American biologist Victoria Braithwaite:

During the early stages when the aquaculture industry was rapidly expanding, mistakes were made and these were costly both in terms of direct losses and in respect of the industry's image. High-density rearing led to outbreaks of infectious diseases that in some cases devastated not just the caged fish, but local wild fish populations too. The negative impact on local wildlife inhabiting areas close to the fish farms continues to be an ongoing public relations problem for the industry. Furthermore, a general lack of knowledge and insufficient care being taken when fish pens or cages were initially constructed, meant that pollution from excess feed and fish waste created huge barren underwater deserts.

In the last sentence, the subject is "a general lack of knowledge and insufficient care being taken when fish pens or cages were initially constructed" and the predicate is "meant that pollution from excess feed and fish waste created huge barren underwater deserts."

I think that the when-clause "when fish pens or cages were initially constructed" modifies "insufficient care being taken". So if we just forget about the when-clause for a moment, we have this subject:

a general lack of knowledge and insufficient care being taken

So the subject comprises two elements combined with "and", the first element being "a general lack of knowledge" and the second being "insufficient care being taken".

Now, which of the following does this second element mean?

(a) insufficient care that was taken

or

(b) the fact that insufficient care was taken

  • The word insufficient renders the first paraphrase semantically impossible. Consider: "the insufficient food that was eaten". That would be an odd way to say that there was not enough food to eat. With a lack of food, we do not (cannot) eat the lacking food *the not enough food that was eaten. *The too few nails that they used made the structure rickety. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 5 '16 at 12:26
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I incline toward your b) paraphrase, "the fact that insufficient care was taken".

... insufficient care being taken when fish pens or cages were initially constructed ...

The passive gerund being taken is the head of this clause; insufficient care is its subject argument and the when clause is its adverbial modifier. It might be paraphrased "the taking of insufficient care when ...".

If Prof. Braithwaite had intended your paraphrase a), "insufficient care which was taken", with being taken as a participial modifier, she would presumably have written this without the superfluous BE: and insufficient care taken when....

  • Thanks. Is the reason why the "be" would be superfluous because "being taken" would encode the superfluous progressive aspect? – JK2 Jul 5 '16 at 15:21
  • No; it's superfluous because wh- BE is an unnecessary amplification of the bare passive participle. (Many linguists say that wh- BE is the underlying form, and the bare participle is a reduced relative clause, the product of Whiz deletion; but I think this is perverse.) – StoneyB Jul 5 '16 at 15:39
  • What is "wh- BE"? – JK2 Jul 5 '16 at 16:14
  • Also, if there were a third reading, (c) insufficient care that was being taken, and that third reading were intended by the author, wouldn't the "being taken" in the original text encode the progressive aspect? – JK2 Jul 5 '16 at 16:20
  • wh- BE means "any relative" followed by any realization of the verb BE, so who was, which is, that is being, which had been, &c. – StoneyB Jul 5 '16 at 16:37

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