Type of clause

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Senior Member
In the following example, what kind of clause is "however long and hard the road may be"?

"You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."

From what I understand, "at all costs" and "in spite of all terror" are adjective phrases describing victory (though I'm not really sure if they're describing what kind of victory or describing "victory" otherwise), but "however long and hard the road may be" confuses me because of the inverted word order, usage of the auxiliary "may", and the introduction of the subject "road" rather then referring to victory again. I don't understand the clauses' relationship to "victory" if it even modifies that. Perhaps it is modifying the predicate "is victory", answering to what extent is the aim victory or something of the sort. I understand the lexical and semantic meanings as well as morphological roles of the words, but the syntax evades me.

Thank you
  • wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    These are all adverbial expressions modifying the verb 'is'. We should understand the words 'it is' before each repetition of 'victory'.

    Of course, in this case, the verb (also called the 'copula') is the verb 'to be', which links the subject 'it' (meaning the aim) and the complement 'victory' by asserting their identity (saying that one is the other). As a result, the semantic role of the verb is reduced to modest proportions (in some languages, it can be omitted altogether).

    Thus when Churchill repeats the word 'victory', the semantic role of the adverbial phrases 'at all costs' and 'in spite of all terror' and of the adverbial clause 'however long and hard the road may be' is effectively related to the complement, even though in terms of syntax they are modifying the self-effacing verb 'is'.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't think I can give you a technical analysis however here is a simplified version of the sentence with respect to the phrase in question.

    "...our aim...is victory...however hard the road may be..."

    We can change the word order:

    Our aim, however hard the road may be, is victory.

    You can see that the phrase could be replaced by an adverb, e.g.

    Our aim, inevitably, is victory.

    Our aim, eventually, is victory.

    I hope this helps.

    (Cross-posted with wandle who, I see, has provided the technical explanation)
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'At all costs' and 'in spite of all terror' are preposition phrases (PP); they are headed by prepositions and they modify 'victory' just as the PP 'in the garden' modifies 'cat' in 'the cat in the garden'. There are no adjectives or adjective phrases anywhere in these.

    'However long and hard the road may be' is an adjective phrase but is also a clause. (That is, it is a fused relative.) It happens to be headed by the adjective phrase coordination 'long and hard', but various kinds of fused relative could also occur as modifiers of 'victory' in the same way:

    victory, whatever it costs [noun phrase]
    victory, whenever it happens [adverb phrase]
    victory, wherever we are
    victory, however costly it is

    Internally, this fused relatives are like wh-subordinate clauses: they have a wh-word at the front, but statement word order, not question word order (I know what it costs ~ What does it cost?). The addition of 'ever' makes it exhaustive: I'll pay what it costs; I'll pay whatever it costs; Whatever it costs, I'll pay it.


    Senior Member
    Now that wandle and entangledbank have proposed different answers to the questions, the former saying that the phrases are modifying the predicate thus being adverbial in function and the latter that the phrases are modifying only the subject complement thus being adjectival in function, which is the correct answer? Or was entangledbank implying that victory is a part of the predicate, so the expressions are still adverbial?
    I see that there are no adjectives in the two prepositional phrases as well as the the one you've provided about the cat; I meant to ask if the whole phrase functioned as an adjective (from what I know, prepositional phrases (PP) can function as nouns, adverbs, or adjectives). As for the third expression, "however long and hard the road may be', the fused relatives are something new for me, so thank you for that information; I see how they fit in here. I supposed "regardless of how long and hard..." could be substituted in the first part, which makes it easier to see how it's adverbial. You have answered the second part of my initial question, about the structure of that expression independent from its surrounding.


    Senior Member
    English - British
    I feel sure the aim in Churchill's mind was not 'victory-at-all-costs' or 'victory-however-hard-or-long-the-road-may-be', but simply victory: and that the modifying expressions state conditions under which that aim might be realised.
    The basic idea of the sentence is 'our aim is victory' and the emphatic additions say 'we hold this aim even under the most adverse conditions'.


    Senior Member
    wandle, I see how that makes sense; curious how the shades in meaning of the sentence can alter grammatical structure

    Hello GS,

    Thank you for the information - I wasn't aware that such a subtype of clauses existed, though that has more to do with the meaning of the clause (the contrasting ideas) than the grammatical role (adverbial, as it turns out).
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