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I have a question about this sentence:

They stood in the streetlight through the kitchen window there’d never been much point putting curtains over

The sentence is taken from a book, so it should be correct as it is.

It sounds strange to me, because it seems that something is missing between "window" and "there'd", like "where" or something.

Is it normal or is something actually omitted on purpose?

  • Actually, it reads as "They stood in the darkened kitchen, illuminated by the streetlight outside shining through the curtainless window". It is a whole lot more awkward than it needs to be, though — definitely a Bulwer-Lytton Award candidate. – bye Jul 2 '14 at 9:55
  • It's not clear from my question, maybe, but the sentence comes from a book and I suppose is correct – Carlo Jul 2 '14 at 10:01
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    To make it a little clearer you really need something like: "They stood in the streetlight coming through the kitchen window that there’d never been much point putting curtains over" – Neil W Jul 2 '14 at 10:02
  • When you quote from a book, it is helpful to everyone else if you name the author and title (and/or supply a link to the text). Knowing what the book is helps with understanding the context of the segment you cite -- for instance, it is useful to know if you are reading an account of the stream of consciousness of a character in a novel, or part of an autobiography, or one character in a novel giving an explanation to someone else... This helps to clarify issues revolving around such things as intentionality, tone, degree of formality etc. – Erik Kowal Jul 17 '14 at 5:55
  • Yes, @ErikKowal, you are probably right. I didn't put any source because I thought it was just a usual sentence and it was just me struggling to understand it. – Carlo Jul 17 '14 at 13:53
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It's perfectly grammatical and normal. In this case, because of the complexity of the sentence, it's not very clear, but it's still grammatical.

The rules on who/which and that to introduce relative clauses are, roughly:

  • You can always use one of them
  • You can never use more than one of them
  • If the noun phrase to which the relative clause is attached is functioning as the subject of the relative clause, you must use one of them
  • Otherwise you may omit all of them.
  • For a non-restrictive (commenting) relative clause, you must use who/which, not that.

So

The stone that/which fell on me ...

requires that or which, but

The stone that/which/Ø I tripped over ...

allows either or none (Ø means "nothing").

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I think the sentence would be easier to understand if it was moonlight they were standing in. But anyway, it is a single sentence with some words elided (which isn't wrong)

They stood in the (light from the) streetlight (that was coming in) through the kitchen window (that) there’d never been much point putting curtains over

I've never heard streetlight used to mean "light from the streetlight" but with that assumption, the sentence can work.

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It's a direct quote from a real book, but that doesn't make it "right". It is a bit hard to understand.

The full quote is

They stood in the streetlight through the kitchen window there'd never been much point putting curtains over and listened to the thumping of the surf from down the hill. (Some nights, when the wind was right, you could hear the surf all over town.)

It's easier to understand if you fill in the missing words:

They stood in the streetlight (looking?) through the kitchen window (that) there (had) never been much point (in) putting curtains over, and listened...

A New York Times critic described the book as

a simple shaggy-dog detective story that pits likable dopers against the Los Angeles Police Department and its 'countersubversive' agents, a novel in which paranoia is less a political or metaphysical state than a byproduct of smoking too much weed.

So maybe we're supposed to feel a bit disoriented reading it?

  • One more issue, you understand that the are standing inside or outside the kitchen? – user66974 Jul 2 '14 at 10:29
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    No, I don't understand where they are exactly. I would need more context. I presume they are outside, since they can hear the surf. Maybe they're inside, looking out, and the window is open. – anongoodnurse Jul 2 '14 at 10:32
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    I think it's quite clear that they are inside the kitchen, since the streetlight obviously comes from outside. And the first missing word would be "coming", but it's not really necessary – Carlo Jul 2 '14 at 10:34
  • @Carlo - sounds good to me! – anongoodnurse Jul 2 '14 at 10:52

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