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Hi everyone,

I have a question with regards to the "distributive law" in English.

Please refer to the following two sentences each of which is part of the definitions of the word "session" in a dictionary.


Sentence 1: a meeting or period of time used for a particular purpose...

In sentence 1, does the reduced relative clause "used for a particular purpose" modify both "a meeting" and "a period of time", or does it only modify the noun "a period of time"?

In addition, I have noticed that there is no article in front of "period of time" in this sentence. Is this because both "period of time" and "meeting" share the same article "a" to make the sentence more succinct? If I were to write it out in full, should the sentence be "a meeting or a period of time used for a particular purpose...".


Sentence 2: a formal meeting or group of meetings of an organization...

As for this sentence, which of the two ideas below does the definition convey?

1) "a formal meeting of an organization or a group of meetings of an organization..."

2) "a formal meeting" or " a group of meetings of an organization"

Does the phrase "of an organization" modify both "a formal meeting" and "a group of meetings" as shown in idea 1), or does it only modify the noun "a group of meetings" as given in idea 2)?

What would I need to do to the sentence if I wanted to make the phrase "of an organization" modify only the noun "a group of meetings"? Can I rewrite it as given in the following?

"a formal meeting, or (a) group of meetings of an organization..." (with the help of a comma) (Not sure if I need an additional article in front of the word group as a result of this modification)


Thank you very much for your help Emotion: smile


Kenny

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KennyLuSentence 1: a meeting or period of time used for a particular purpose... In sentence 1, does the reduced relative clause "used for a particular purpose" modify both "a meeting" and "a period of time"

Yes

KennyLuIn addition, I have noticed that there is no article in front of "period of time" in this sentence. Is this because both "period of time" and "meeting" share the same article "a" to make the sentence more succinct?

Yes - it's not necessary to use the extra article here although you can if you like. It certainly helps us to realise that the modifier is relevant to both nouns.

KennyLuSentence 2: a formal meeting or group of meetings of an organization...As for this sentence, which of the two ideas below does the definition convey?
1) "a formal meeting of an organization or a group of meetings of an organization..."
2) "a formal meeting" or " a group of meetings of an organization"

Again, the lack of article for the second part suggests we are to group them together (meaning 1).

KennyLuWhat would I need to do to the sentence if I wanted to make the phrase "of an organization" modify only the noun "a group of meetings"? Can I rewrite it as given in the following?
"a formal meeting, or (a) group of meetings of an organization..." (with the help of a comma)
(Not sure if I need an additional article in front of the word group as a result of this modification)

There is no absolute rule here, but to avoid confusion I would do as you have done. The comma separates the first idea from the second, while the extra 'a' allows the second idea to exist independently. It is as clear as it is reasonable to get that they are two separate things.

Comments  
KennyLuI have a question with regards to the "distributive law" in English.

regard

KennyLuSentence 1: a meeting or period of time used for a particular purpose... In sentence 1, does the reduced relative clause "used for a particular purpose" modify both "a meeting" and "a period of time", or does it only modify the noun "a period of time"?

Both.

KennyLuIn addition, I have noticed that there is no article in front of "period of time" in this sentence. Is this because both "period of time" and "meeting" share the same article "a" to make the sentence more succinct?

Yes, but see below. A dicionary can get bulky quickly, and they save space whenever they can

KennyLuIf I were to write it out in full, should the sentence be "a meeting or a period of time used for a particular purpose...".

No. The repeating of the article makes the reader wonder whether the clause refers only to the second part.

KennyLuSentence 2: a formal meeting or group of meetings of an organization...As for this sentence, which of the two ideas below does the definition convey? 1) "a formal meeting of an organization or a group of meetings of an organization..." 2) "a formal meeting" or " a group of meetings of an organization"Does the phrase "of an organization" modify both "a formal meeting" and "a group of meetings" as shown in idea 1), or does it only modify the noun "a group of meetings" as given in idea 2)?

Number 1. This is built into the written language. There is no ambiguity when it is written like that, with the second article missing.

KennyLuWhat would I need to do to the sentence if I wanted to make the phrase "of an organization" modify only the noun "a group of meetings"? Can I rewrite it as given in the following?"a formal meeting, or (a) group of meetings of an organization..." (with the help of a comma) (Not sure if I need an additional article in front of the word group as a result of this modification)

The comma is insufficient with or without the article. That is not one of the purposes of a comma, and the reader wonders what it is doing there. Also, the "or" rules out separation of the two parts. I think the soluton is "A group of meetings of an organization; a formal meeting."

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 David Hatton's reply was promoted to an answer.

Hi David,

Thank you very much for your explanation. It is very clear and straight to the point. I have had a think about the answers you and the other people who also commented on the post yesterday. Below is the summary to the three posts. Could you please help me take a look at it to see if I have understood the content well? If the summary isn't clear and accurate, please help me point out and correct the mistakes Emotion: smile

In addition to that, may I please ask you what the name for this grammar rule is. I would like to do some further reading on it Emotion: smile


Summary

  1. Both of you mentioned that the missing article suggests to the readers that the nouns are considered "together". Therefore, for the first sentence in my original post, one can analyze it as Sentence 1.

(the modifier is shaded in yellow, and the noun(s) being modified is in blue in bold)

Sentence 1 : a meeting or period of time used for a particular purpose
Sentence 2 : a meeting used for a particular purpose, or a period of time used for a particular purpose 
Sentence 3 : a meeting, or a period of time used for a particular purpose
Sentence 4 : a period of time used for a particular purpose, or a meeting
  • The reduced relative clause, "used for a particular purpose", acts as a modifier and is an adjective.
  • Since there is a missing article prior to the second part, it suggests that "period of time" should be considered together with "meeting" when there is a modifier following the two nouns. Therefore, the sentence can be rewritten as Sentence 2 with identical meaning.
  • In the case that there is an additional article prior to "period of time", the sentence suggests that the second part is independent of the first part. However, this may cause confusion to the readers as some may think that the two nouns are relevant, while others may consider them independent.
  • To make the separation clearer and avoid the confusion, we can opt to place a comma in front of "or" to further separate the two items, as described in Sentence 3.
  • Since there is no fix rule around this, we can also elect to use sentence 4 if we wish. In this sentence, it is very clear that the modifier applies only to the noun "a period of time" as there are no other nouns preceding "a period of time". The comma and "or" separate the second item, "a meeting" from the first. This sentence tells the readers that there are two items (nouns), one is "a period of time that is used for a particular purpose", and the other is "a meeting".

The key point is that the omission of the article for the second part suggests that the modifier following the second noun ("used for a particular purpose" or "of an organization")  applies to both nouns.

Thank you very much for your help

Kenny

Thank you very much for your help. I appreciate it.

I have compiled a comprehensive summary for our discussion. Please refer to my reply to David and see if you agree with it Emotion: smile


Kenny

Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?

You understand the points, yes. I don't know of the technical name for this element of grammar, I'm afraid.

Hi David,

Thank you very much. It's fine. So is what I have written in my last post all correct?


Kenny

Yes, you have made sense in what you have said.

Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.