In this youtube-video a non native speaker of English said the following sentence

... another verb, of which I've already talked about the present tense

At first, I thought it was simply a mistake but then I realized what she was trying to do. The weird thing is that both, I and she, are native speakers of German. Such a construction is impossible in German. Since she generally has a high level of proficiency I am curious:

  • Is this construction grammatical?
  • Is it good style?
  • Can native speakers of English process that without any problems?

If the answers are "no"

  • How could this information be phrased as succinctly as possible?
  • 3
    I wonder if there is any really good way to say this. Maybe: "...another verb, whose present tense I have already talked about"
    – GEdgar
    Jan 26, 2015 at 15:31
  • 1
    @GEdgar... just thought how I'd do it in German and that lead me to "the present tense of which I have already discussed"
    – Emanuel
    Jan 26, 2015 at 15:33
  • 2
    It's grammatical, if a bit labored. It's pied piping of another verb in forming a nonrestrictive relative clause from I've already talked about the present tense of another verb. The unspecified another verb nonterminal becomes which in forming the relative clause, and the distribution of the prepositions is precisely as specified by the rules of relative formation. Jan 26, 2015 at 16:08
  • 1
    It's not grammatical. The easiest way to fix it: "... another verb, which I've already talked about the present tense of". (I agree with John's analysis, but I just don't think it's any good with the pied piping.) (GEdgar's version is good too, and better in a formal style.)
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 26, 2015 at 16:32
  • 1
    Certainly it's the pied piping that's the source of the oddity. It does have a lot of strange extrusions, and I think the answer to the OQ is that native English speakers differ about how they process that -- some have more problems than others, apparently. I wouldn't write it, and I hope I'd never corner myself into emitting something like it in speech. So that's a "problem", I think. Jan 26, 2015 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's grammatical.

No, it is not in good style.

No, you cannot be assured that everyone will process it correctly. Just because something is grammatical doesn't mean everyone will process it well: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.

The best way to say their clunky phrase is:

...another verb, (one) whose present tense I've already talked about.

The optional one might be useful in speech to make sure the listener realizes this is a descriptive clause not a restrictive one.

Why the person said the clumsy version instead of the simple and clear — and to my mind obvious — alternative I've proposed we cannot know for certain, but we can make some educated guesses:

  1. If you had not made the “But in German this is impossible” proviso, I would have said that her first language might be one where the clumsy way is the only way allowed. Not all languages have single words that work just like whose does in English, or even the wer/wen/wem/wes set of German. If so, said hypothetical speaker might have naturally reached for something more like whatever they're used to, no matter how clumsy that might be in English.
  2. She might be suffering under the distressingly widespread misunderstanding that whose is restricted to animates the way who and whom are. It isn't, at least not when serving as a relative possessive pronoun the way it is here.
    • You cannot use whose as an interrogative pronoun for non-animates. So you cannot ask Whose branch did this leaf come from? if you are looking for an answer which is a tree not a person or an owl. This is the only situation where whose is forbidden from being used on non-animates like trees — as opposed to men or owls, both well-known for their who affinities.
    • However, it's perfectly fine to say That tree over there is the one whose branch lost a leaf. Here it is just a regular old relative pronoun in the possessive case connecting up a subordinate clause, so unlike in the previous example, animacy does not matter.
  3. She might have been so tortured when trying to learn the complicated rules for using whom correctly that like a burnt child fearing fire, she's now gun-shy of anything that smells at all whoish.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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