Can which clause modify participle phrases?

Which clause is usually used for summarizing or explaining the clause before it.

1 His wife was stunning, which was always his pride.

2 I left the key at the office, which did not help the situation at all.

A. What I am curious about is if it can modify the phrases, such as absolute phrase and participle phrase as below (italicized part is where the which clause modifies):

3 His wife was stunning, always attracting other men, which bothered her husband a lot.

(here, his wife's always attracting other men bothered him.)

4 I left the key at the office, having been too distracted by the appointment, which was always the problem I had.

(here, being too distracted by the appointment was always the problem he had.)

B. Also, is it possible for the which clause to modify the clause, not the phrase, as below?

5 She was stunning, born between superior parents, which was her only pride.

(as clearly seen, her being stunning, not her being born between superior parents, was her only proud.)

C. And now, here is the last question. Can which clause modify the whole clause and the phrase altogether?

6 I was cooking a horribly shaped octopus, causing me to vomit, which was (or is it were?) a serious problem.

(With this, I am not sure as to which to use (was or were), for there are two actions but those two actions are happening simultaneously)

Are all three versions, A,B, and C, correct, or are there ones that are not acceptable?

  • 1
    Note: proud is an adjective, not (normally) a noun. We don't say that something is someone's proud. We can say that it's their pride, but in your examples here, it sounds more natural to say that it is a source of pride for them. Sep 17, 2015 at 0:33
  • Yeah...I was rushing and massed it up...
    – sooeithdk
    Sep 17, 2015 at 0:34
  • 1
    And it should be was in your last example, not were. The antecedent of which is still an entire sentence; whether that sentence contains one or two clauses doesn't matter. And why does the shape of your octopus make you commit?! Sep 17, 2015 at 0:37
  • Octopus sometimes just freaks me out! Looking at their tentacles is a torture for me. Anyway, is antecedent of which always entire sentence (including the phrase and clause), not just a phrase or clause like my version B or A?
    – sooeithdk
    Sep 17, 2015 at 0:39
  • 1
    Yes; this kind of ‘loose which’ refers back to an entire statement or situation, which will tend to take in as much as it can, but it needs to have a finite verb. Sep 17, 2015 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


McCawley discusses such constructions in The Syntactic Phenomena of English, and treats the clauses you are asking about as sentence modifiers, whose relative pronouns have the sentence modified as antecedents. For instance, your first example has the structure:

[S [S His wife was stunning ], which was always his pride. ]

where the antecedent of "which" is the sentence "His wife was stunning." That makes sense to me, since putting that sentence in place of "which" makes the appositive relative clause:

[NP [S his wife was stunning ] ] was always his pride

If it were an independent clause, the S in subject position would have to be nominalized, so we'd get something like:

His wife's being stunning was always his pride.

This analysis makes sense of the construction. So my answer to your question is no, the clause you're asking about does not modify a participial phrase, but rather modifies the sentence which serves to interpret the relative pronoun.

  • So... only version C, but NEVER A or B? The whole sentence, not just a phrase or a clause?
    – sooeithdk
    Sep 17, 2015 at 0:36
  • 1
    Uh, no, that is not what I mean to be saying. IMO, all your examples have relative clauses modifying preceding sentences. Those sentences may themselves be relative clauses, some in the reduced -ing form. It's not always clear to me how you use the terms "phrase" and "clause".
    – Greg Lee
    Sep 17, 2015 at 0:51
  • Um... participle phrase, and the "she was stunning part", I think, is clause. My grammar is not that good, so I might have misused it.
    – sooeithdk
    Sep 17, 2015 at 0:54
  • I'm just going to need sometime to understand your answer fully. I'm searching around now:)
    – sooeithdk
    Sep 17, 2015 at 0:57

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