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There is a question asking a student to fill in the word. Heaven helps those ( ) help themselves. The answer is "who" Is this "who" is a relative pronoun? What is the meaning of this word?

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    – user140086
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 2:37

2 Answers 2

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"Those" is a fused determiner-head in which the determiner ("those") and the head ("people") are combined, or "fused" into a single word. Your example can be glossed as "Heaven helps those people who help themselves", from which the antecedent of "who” is clearly "people".

"People" refers to some arbitrary sub-group who ‘help themselves’.

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While the word is missing, that phrase, and similar phrases, are usually about people. 'Who' is a relative pronoun. You use 'who' to connect someone to something, usually an action or trait. Usually to use 'who' and related words the person or people in question are not known. It is used for general statements, keeping it open to whoever it can possibly apply to.

For example an equivalent way to say that phrase would be "Heaven helps people that help themselves." It's quite obvious what we're talking about here but it doesn't sound as eloquent, which is the main reason for talking in a style that the original question uses.

Here are some examples of the usage of who in a similar manner:

  • "Do you know who did this?" "No, I do not know who did this."
  • "Actually she was the one who was responsible for that."
  • He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.
  • "To whoever took the 'L' from the motor pool sign: ha ha we are all very amused."
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  • Hmmm that doesn't seem correct to me: "Your Dad, who is the most generous guy I've ever met, has invited me to go to his villa in Spain." Here the owrd who refers to 'your Dad' who is obviously someone well-known to both speaker and listener. Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 10:17
  • I said it is usually used this way but not always. Technically you could also say "Your dad, the most generous guy I've ever met, has invited me to go to his villa in Spain." 'Who' kinda acts like glue in that way. At that point though it's more a of a stylistic thing.
    – user156962
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 2:49
  • I suppose the thing is that whenever the clause is a non-defining relative clause, we definitely know the identity of the who. If the clause is a defining relative clause then we know the identity of the who from the clause itself, an if that clause is definite then we probably know who the who is as it were. Compare That is the man who ..... and He is a man who ...., so it's actually quite complicated! Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 13:15
  • Details (context) really do make all the difference.
    – user156962
    Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 4:19

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