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I can obtain knowledge by studying physics, which is nice.

In the above sentence, does nice refer to knowledge or to physics? How can I make refer it to specifically to "knowledge"?

Thanks

  • This is a good question and I would have up-voted it but for the fact that both your questions contain grammatical errors. I think you meant ...does nice refer to knowledge or to physics? and How can I make it refer specifically to "knowledge"? You have received a good answer from @Nonnal, below – WS2 Dec 29 '15 at 18:11
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    @WS2 Thanks, I fixed the errors. Well, if my English was perfect like you guys I didn't need this forum. – Sus20200 Dec 29 '15 at 18:14
  • Susan, ELL exists for less advanced questions. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 29 '15 at 18:48
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I would add a comma to offset "which is nice" as follows:

I can obtain knowledge by studying physics, which is nice.

You are saying that your ability to obtain such knowledge is "nice." This sentences does not mean that "physics is nice." Typically, the word "nice" is not used to refer to inanimate objects. It's almost always either an animate object ("Bob is nice." / "Her dog is nice.") or a concept, process, or other intangible related to an action in some way ("The way you dance is nice." / "That gesture is nice." / "I strive to be nice in my behavior.").

If you wanted to praise either "knowledge" or "physics," I would recommend a different word. For example:

I can obtain knowledge, which is helpful, by studying physics.

I can obtain knowledge by studying physics, which is useful.

Note, however, that in both cases the antecedent is ambiguous. Is it the ability to obtain knowledge that is helpful, or the knowledge itself? Is it the ability to obtain knowledge that is useful, or the physics itself? The only way to avoid that ambiguity would be to rewrite the sentences altogether:

I can obtain knowledge, something I find very useful, by studying physics.

By studying physics, which is a useful discipline, I can obtain knowledge.

And so forth.

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In your example, "which is nice" is an appositive relative clause. Appositive relative clauses have to be next to whatever their relative pronouns refer to. "Which" refers to the sentence "I can obtain knowledge by studying physics", and the appositive relative clause is immediately after that sentence, so the requirement is satisfied:

[S I can obtain knowledge by studying physics], [R which is nice].

If you wanted "which" to refer to "knowledge" instead, the appositive relative would have to be moved next to "knowledge" in order to satisfy the fundamental rule that appositives have to be next to the constituent they refer to:

I can obtain knowledge, which is nice, by studying physics.

This has become ambiguous, however, since now "which" could also refer to the sentence "I can obtain knowledge".

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