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The basic trend of art has been naturalistic, a characteristic already evident as early as the Three Kindoms period.

In this sentence, what does "a characteristic" refer to?

1."The basic trend of art... naturalistic"

2. "The basic trend of art"

3."naturalistic"

I think the right answer is 3, but I'm not sure whether it's possible an adjective like "naturalistic" can be appositively refered to by a noun phrase like "a characteristic".

Could you make some examples as well if you can?

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The basic trend of art has been naturalistic, a characteristic already evident as early as the Three Kindoms period.

"A characteristic" is intended to refer to "naturalistic".

Appositives are noun phrases that define or re-name other noun phrases. But "naturalistic" is an adjective and hence it cannot be modified by an appositive NP.

Comments  

It's 3, but that is sloppy writing, as you sensed. The grammar of it makes you read it as 2 because you think it can't be the adjective. The problem lies not in the apposition but in the absent referent: "The basic trend of art has been toward naturalism, a characteristic already evident as early as the Three Kindoms period." The trend is not naturalistic, the art is. A sentence should yield its meaning unambiguously upon close examination.

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anonymous The problem lies not in the apposition but in the absent referent:

What apposition?

 BillJ's reply was promoted to an answer.
BillJ

The basic trend of art has been naturalistic, a characteristic already evident as early as the Three Kindoms period.

"A characteristic" refers to "naturalistic".

Appositives are noun phrases that define or re-name other noun phrases. But "naturalistic" is an adjective and hence it cannot be modified by an appositive NP.

So to sum up, you mean the sentence is grammatically wrong and "naturalistic" has to be the noun form, "naturalism"?


And as for the first comment written by anonymous, do you think the comment below is wrong and this part ""Naturalistic/Realistic/Impressionistic/Abstract/Surrealistic is the trend in art these days." is also wrong?

(3 is right. "Naturalistic" here is not an adjective. It's a noun, as in: "Naturalistic/Realistic/Impressionistic/Abstract/Surrealistic is the trend in art these days.")

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The basic trend of art has been naturalistic, a characteristic already evident as early as the Three Kindoms period.

The sentence is grammatically OK.

Anon is wrong. Characteristics are normally adjectives, compare "Ed is very aggressive, [a characteristic I find unpleasant].

Incidentally, the underlined element is a supplemental NP. Supplements are not modifiers, but loosely attached expressions providing additional non-integrated content.

BillJ
anonymous The problem lies not in the apposition but in the absent referent:

What apposition?

Huh? A characteristic is a noun. What characteristics did Marilyn possess? Beauty, talent, perseverance, etc. Not beautiful, etc.

"Naturalistic is an adjective: "The trend has been naturalistic".

Appositive NPs modify (or are supplements to) NPs, not AdjPs.

Even if "naturalistic" were replaced with a noun, the expression "a characteristic already evident as early as the Three Kindoms period" would still not be an appositive.

The OP's example comes from an impeccable source, the Encylopaedia Britannica, but I think it is only marginally acceptable.

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