In the entry that-trace effect in Glottopedia, the following sentence is shown as an ungrammatical example.

*Who did you think that would win?

But, I believe that the next sentence is grammatical.

Who that knows him doesn't love him?

What is the difference?

  • The second example is a relative clause construction with the understood relative pronoun as subject of the relative clause. Compare it with the almost grammatical "Who who knows him doesn't love him?" The relative pronoun is already at the beginning of the relative clause, so there is no movement, hence no trace. (I recall that this is controversial, and that the matter is argued in GPSG the book. I don't remember the details.)
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 3, 2015 at 6:30
  • "whoever", not "whomever" (subject, not object) Nov 3, 2015 at 6:46
  • Who knows him that doesn't love him? Nov 3, 2015 at 6:47

1 Answer 1


You are correct—the first sentence is ungrammatical while the second is grammatical. The devil, as always, is in the details. Consider the description of the that-trace effect:

…the phenomenon that the complementizer (that) cannot be followed by a trace…

(Emphasis mine.)

In the first example, the “that” follows the trace. The sentence, prior to wh-movement, would be the following:

Did you think that she would win?

Therefore, the trace is at the position of the original “she,” which comes directly after the complementizer. Contrast this with the same transformation applied to the second sentence:

He that knows him doesn't love him?

In this example, the “he” precedes the “that,” so the that-t effect does not apply.

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.