5

From "The Craft of Family Therapy" by Salvador Minuchin, etc.:

The therapist says to a family: "So you gave birth to a genius?" The family agreed, which I thought was strange that a child so young could have so much influence.

I suspect the sentence is grammatically wrong. Thanks for response.

2

I agree that it's ungrammatical. People do say this kind of thing, but it's a mistake when they do.

You can say:

The family agreed, which I thought was strange.

This sentence has a non-restrictive relative clause modifying a finite proposition (The family agreed). Let's rearrange the sentence so that it has no relative clause:

I thought [that the family agreed was strange].

The clause that the family agreed was strange can usually be rearranged with an extraposed declarative finite clause (also possible is infinitival for the family to agree), and expletive it occupying the position normally reserved for the subject:

(I thought) it was strange that the family agreed.

Now consider the competing pair of clauses:

That a child so young could have so much influence was strange.

and...

It was strange that a child so young could have so much influence.

The writer has embedded in a relative clause a clause with strange, forgetting that the argument of strange is already in the main clause. A clause based on strange can have both extraposed subject and canonically-ordered versions, but the extraposed form is more frequent. In experience you expect to see an extraposed subject after strange, so the mistake is understandable.

| improve this answer | |
  • How about if there's a comma or a dash after strange, so that the complement clause becomes something akin to an appositive clause clarifying what the which refers to? Is it perhaps more of a punctuation error? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 13:52
  • 1
    @Araucaria I don't think so. it is not going to be grammatical unless the reader can know what is supposed to be strange: the family's agreement with the therapist's statement, or the child's influence. – user31341 Sep 3 '14 at 19:20
  • @Araucaria also you don't see which being used to introduce a non-subordinate clause in standard written English. and if you do (in casual speech and dialect), the clause is a complete clause, not a relative clause with a "gap" in it, as in the OP's sentence. – user31341 Sep 3 '14 at 19:30
  • 1
    It seems to me that if the sentences run: "So you gave birth to a genius?" The family agreed, which I thought was strange - that a child so young could have so much influence. then the agreeing and the child having so much influence would being portrayed as part of the same phenomenon. I don't see why this construction makes the relative clause a non-subordinate clause? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 22:07
  • @Araucaria I guess I can see the interpretation and bracketing you are suggesting. the fact that the family agrees with the statement is part of the child's influence. if you squint as you suggest, i could see the sentence becoming passable. – user31341 Sep 4 '14 at 0:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.