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I've a question about the formation of a sentence. There are three forms of the same sentence which I'm confused with.

  1. This is your plan which is what I'm a part of.
  2. This is your plan which is I'm a part of.
  3. This is your plan which I'm a part of.

Can anyone explain which form is the correct one, and why?

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They're all unacceptable, and there's no context, so please provide one. Maybe it should be "This is that plan of yours that I'm involved in" or "This is your plan, and I'm involved in it"? Maybe not. I can't tell what you want to say or why – user21497 Apr 14 '13 at 2:07
@BillFranke 1 and 3 are grammatically correct but possibly not semantically. – Mitch Apr 14 '13 at 2:28
@Mitch: Grammaticality is always trumped by semantics and idiomaticity. However, all require a comma before "which" because it can't be a synonym for "that" in these sentences. None is acceptable. – user21497 Apr 14 '13 at 2:50
@Bill: try saying that (your first sentence) to John Lawler. In fact, have you a more famous name than (sorry) your own for the statement, so that it's hard for people to argue that it's not a trump? – Edwin Ashworth Apr 14 '13 at 14:27
@Edwin: No, I don't have a more famous name. My own is notorious in some quarters of the English-usage-maven world, however. If Prof Lawler disagrees with my claim (he'll have to see it, of course, & care enough to want to respond to it, & I can't guarantee that either condition will be met), then I'm sure I'll hear about it. I'll assume that if no one else is interested in persuading the community here that my claim is incorrect, that it's tacitly accepted if not overtly embraced. – user21497 Apr 14 '13 at 15:12
up vote 3 down vote accepted

In a relative clause introduced by a relative pronoun, the pronoun substitutes for one of the main parts of the clause, either the subject or a complement of the verb. Let's look at these three relative clauses by "undoing" the substitution. We'll use This for the part that which stands for:

  1. which is what I am a part of ...
    Substituting this for which gives usThis is what I am a part of = What I am a part of is this. That's a perfectly OK sentence, so this is grammatical.
  2. which is I'm a part of ...
    Substituting this for which gives usThis is I am a part of. A part of what? Of this? Moving this to the end gives us is I am a part of this. This doesn’t work: there’s an extra verb on the front. So this version is not grammatical.
  3. which I'm a part of ...
    Substituting this for which gives usThis I am a part of = I am a part of this. Once more, the sentence is OK, so this is grammatical.

So 1 and 3 are both grammatical. Which one is “correct”?—that depends on what you’re trying to say. The purely propositional content of both is the same—“I am a part of this”—but they focus on different things, and arise in different contexts:

  • Which I’m part of arises when your interlocutor is asking about the plan. It gives new information about the plan: “It’s not just your plan, it’s also the plan I’m part of.”
  • Which is what I’m part of arises when your interlocutor is asking about you:

    HIM: Tell me, dibyendu, what is it you do? What are you part of?
    YOU: Well, sir, this!
    HIM: What’s this?
    YOU: It’s Your Plan, sir!
    HIM: My plan?
    YOU: This is Your Plan, which is what I’m a part of! And very proud to be so!
    HIM: Oh. Well, dibyendu, it does you credit!
    YOU: Thank you, sir!

Whichever version suits, a comma should follow plan; bare This is your plan implies that your interlocutor has only one plan. For either clause to be restrictive and not require the comma you would have to say This is the plan of yours which &c.

share|improve this answer
Stoney, excellent, +1. – user19148 Apr 14 '13 at 2:18

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