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The following is a quote from Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens:

‘Ah! poetry makes life what light and music do the stage—strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions, and what is there real in either to live or care for?’

What part of speech is the word "IN" in the above quote, the adverb or preposition? What is its object if it is a preposition?

Your help will be very much appreciated.

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator
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@f6pafd posted:

The following is a quote from Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens:

‘Ah! poetry makes life what light and music do the stage—strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions, and what is there real in either to live or care for?’

What part of speech is the word "IN" in the above quote, the adverb or preposition? What is its object if it is a preposition?

Hello, f6pafd—What an interesting quotation. "In" is functioning as a preposition there. The object of the preposition "in" is "either." It is eliptical for the compound noun phrase "either life or the stage."

Hello, f6pafd—What an interesting quotation. "In" is functioning as a preposition there. The object of the preposition "in" is "either." It is eliptical for the compound noun phrase "either life or the stage."

Hi David,

I find the first part of quotation rather difficult to parse:

Poetry makes life what light and music do the stage—strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions.

Should I start a thread about it? Anyway, here are my questions:

Does the sentence involve the rightward movement (or extraposition) of "what light and music do [to/on] the stage"? I'm wondering if the sentence is like this before movement:

Poetry makes [what life and music do the stage] life...

Does "life" mean "a reality" or "something vivid or natural"?

I also find the verb form "strip" unusual. I'd have expected "stripping."

Last edited by raymondaliasapollyon
@f6pafd posted:

The following is a quote from Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens:

‘Ah! poetry makes life what light and music do the stage—strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions, and what is there real in either to live or care for?’

I find the first part of quotation rather difficult to parse:

Poetry makes life what light and music do the stage—strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions.



Hi, Ray—I, too, find the opening part of Dickens's sentence difficult to parse. Fortunately, I didn't need to parse it fully in order to answer the question about "in"! Now I shall try to rise to the challege.

I'm not sure that we need to resort to a parse that involves extraposition or rightward movement. I think that the key to the sentence involves understanding "do" and what happens after the em dash.

I think that "do" is functioning as a pro-verb here, standing for "make," and that the em dash is of the same sort that Andrew van Wagner often uses here, introducing an entirely new sentence (not an appositive). Thus we have:

  • Poetry makes life what light and music make the stage. Strip the one of the false embellishments and the other of its illusions, and what is there in either to live or care for?

With the part of the sentence following the em dash written as a separate sentence, we see that it consists of an imperative clause with conditional meaning, conjoined with a rhetorical question. I'd paraphrase it as follows:

  • If you strip the stage of false embellisments and life of its illusions, then what is there in either the stage or life to live or care for?
@f6pafd posted:

Thank you both for the detailed explanations. And something else, what is the function of "to live" and "care for"?  Are they functioning as postmodifiers of "what"?

Hello again, f6pafd—Yes, "to live and care for," which means "to live for and to care for," postmodifies "what." The question could be paraphrased: "What is there that could be lived for or cared for in either (one)?"

Hi, Ray—I, too, find the opening part of Dickens's sentence difficult to parse. Fortunately, I didn't need to parse it fully in order to answer the question about "in"! Now I shall try to rise to the challege.

I'm not sure that we need to resort to a parse that involves extraposition or rightward movement. I think that the key to the sentence involves understanding "do" and what happens after the em dash.

I think that "do" is functioning as a pro-verb here, standing for "make," and that the em dash is of the same sort that Andrew van Wagner often uses here, introducing an entirely new sentence (not an appositive). Thus we have:

  • Poetry makes life what light and music make the stage. Strip the one of the false embellishments and the other of its illusions, and what is there in either to live or care for?


Thank you, David. That's really helpful.

I'm wondering if contemporary English would also phrase sentences like the Dickens sentence, using "do" in place of causative "make." For me, using "make" instead of "do" makes the sentence a lot easier to understand.

Consider the following:

John made Sarah happy, but a couple of days ago, he did her sad.

John made Sarah happy, but a couple of days ago, he made her sad.

Last edited by raymondaliasapollyon

Thank you, David. That's really helpful.

I'm wondering if contemporary English would also phrase sentences like the Dickens sentence, using "do" in place of causative "make." For me, using "make" instead of "do" makes the sentence a lot easier to understand.

Consider the following:

John made Sarah happy, but a couple of days ago, he did her sad.

John made Sarah happy, but a couple of days ago, he made her sad.

Hi, Ray—Your example with "did" does not work at all, in my opinion. I realize that I described "do" as a pro-verb in my last post. In light of your follow-up question, I see that I need to be more precise.

I believe that what is happening with "do" in the Dickens sentence is what generative syntacticians call pseudo-gapping. Verb phrases with causative "make" do seem amenable to pseudo-gapping:

  • John made Sarah happier than he did Jill.
  • John made Sarah happy, as he did Jill.
Last edited by David, Moderator

Hi, Ray—Your example with "did" does not work at all, in my opinion. I realize that I described "do" as a pro-verb in my last post. In light of your follow-up question, I see that I need to be more precise.

I believe that what is happening with "do" in the Dickens sentence is what generative syntacticians call pseudo-gapping. Verb phrases with causative "make" do seem amenable to pseudo-gapping:

  • John made Sarah happier than he did Jill.
  • John made Sarah happy, as he did Jill.

Thank you, David. Do you find the following okay?

Food makes people what fuel does cars.

I think you want to say:

- Food does to people what fuel does to cars.

Please notice that "what" is nominal, and therefore refers to "something," not to a state as is the case with structures like "make sb + adjective."

Hello Gustavo,

I was curious to know whether the structure of Dickens's sentence is still valid in contemporary English, so I made up that sentence to elicit judgments.

Thank you, David. Do you find the following okay?

Food makes people what fuel does cars.

No, I don't find that sentence okay, at least not without a nonrestrictive phrase indicating the meaning of the "what." I find this one marginably tolerable:

  • Food makes people what fuel does cars—energized.

Here's another example. I'm pretty sure find the following one okay, or at least marginably tolerable. How about you?

  • Punctuation makes writing what lane markings do roads—easier to follow.

No, I don't find that sentence okay, at least not without a nonrestrictive phrase indicating the meaning of the "what." I find this one marginably tolerable:

  • Food makes people what fuel does cars—energized.

Here's another example. I'm pretty sure find the following one okay, or at least marginably tolerable. How about you?

  • Punctuation makes writing what lane markings do roads—easier to follow.

The post-dash adjectival elements certainly make those sentences easier to understand. But I think they show the structure of the Dickens sentence (which does not have such an adjectival element) is generally problematic in contemporary English.

Last edited by raymondaliasapollyon

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