1

Is is a rule that relative clauses should be added right after the antecedent(the noun relative pronouns refer to)? What if it is confusing?

For example:

"I went for a spin with a handsome boy last night."

"The handsome boy went out with my friend."

"I went for a spin with a handsome boy who went out with my friend last night ."

"I went for a spin with a handsome boy last night who went out with my friend."

3
  • 1
    Hmm. Relative pronouns can certainly be used later than right after the noun, because the antecedent can be a noun phrase rather than a single word. For example, in "We need someone strong who knows what to do," the relative clause comes after the adjective "strong," rather than after the noun "someone," because the entire noun phrase is "someone strong." In cases like this, the relative pronoun comes directly after the entire noun phrase. I'm still thinking about whether other phrases can come between the noun phrase and the relative clause.
    – herisson
    May 14 '16 at 3:36
  • I didn't come up with noun phrase. Thanks @sumelic, this is helpful!
    – Frank.C
    May 14 '16 at 3:47
  • Prescriptivist. Rules are made to be broken.
    – Lumberjack
    May 14 '16 at 4:13
2

There is some confusion here about how relative clauses work. See McCawley's SPHE for a good description. Here are some notes:

The antecedent of the relative pronoun in a restrictive relative clause is the entire noun phrase within which the relative clause occurs (not what the relative clause modifies). (In the preceding sentence, the antecedent of "which" is the noun phrase "the entire noun phrase within which the relative clause occurs".)

A restrictive relative clause modifies an N-bar, not a noun. (So in sumelic's example in the comment, the relative clause modifies the N-bar "someone strong".)

Restrictive relative clauses can sometimes be extraposed to the end of the verb phrase, as in "A man appeared who had a sinister red beard."

A relative clause does not in general begin with a relative pronoun, but rather with a relative expression within which a relative pronoun occurs (as for instance this very relative clause, which begins with "within which").

4
  • Thanks @Greg Lee, but how about my example here, "I went for a spin with a handsome boy who went out with my friend last night ." "I went for a spin with a handsome boy last night who went out with my friend." which is correct?
    – Frank.C
    May 14 '16 at 4:19
  • What's an N-bar?
    – phoog
    May 14 '16 at 4:29
  • 1
    @phoog, An N-bar (or N' for short) is a phrase consisting of (1) a noun, (2) a noun followed by an "of"-complement (e.g. "father of the bride), (3) an N' preceded or followed by a N'-modifier (such as an adjective, prepositional phrase, or restrictive relative clause). An N' with preceding determiner makes a noun phrase. An N' can be the antecedent of the indefinite pronoun "one", as in "I had [NP an [N' old [N' blue [N' [N coat]]]]] but bought a new one (one = blue coat)."
    – Greg Lee
    May 14 '16 at 12:23
  • @Frank.C, Both your examples are okay. The 2nd one has an extraposed restrictive relative clause, assuming "last night" modifies "went for a spin ...".
    – Greg Lee
    May 14 '16 at 12:54
0

A relative pronoun phrase applies to the last 'valid' noun phrase.

.. the man in my yard that is dirty .. (my yard is dirty)

.. the man in my yard who is dirty .. (the man is dirty, because 'my yard' has an invalid gender for the relative pronoun 'who')

4
  • 1
    That might work as a general "rule of thumb," but I don't think this is a grammatical requirement. For example, consider the following sentence: "Uncles of my mother who had been at the reception in Delhi went to Lahore for a rare school reunion at Aitchison College where they made enquiries about the Pakistani she was said to have married." – Aatish Taseer, Stranger to History
    – herisson
    May 14 '16 at 22:15
  • That sentence is ambiguous until 'they' forces the antecedent backward to 'uncles'. If it was "The aunt of my mother who...", then it would remain ambiguous (the antecedent would default to 'mother').
    – AmI
    May 18 '16 at 21:13
  • The complete sentence is still ambiguous. "[Uncles of [my mother who had been at the reception in Delhi]] went to Lahore for a rare school reunion at Aitchison College where they made enquiries about the Pakistani she was said to have married" would be a grammatically valid parse of the sentence. It's disfavored by semantic considerations, but it cannot be ruled out.
    – herisson
    May 18 '16 at 21:39
  • Good point - and no pattern of commas can fix the ambiguity without confusing the adjectival vs adverbial nature of the apposition. The cure for ambiguity is to use 'my mother's uncles', which also puts 'uncles' in the proper position for the relative pronoun.
    – AmI
    May 27 '16 at 19:05
-1

How about: "Last night I went for a spin with a handsome boy who went out with my friend."

I don't think there is a hard and fast rule about placement of relative clauses but to avoid writing a confusing sentence (which I think there SHOULD be a rule about) it really needs to come before any other noun, otherwise you end up with a sentence like "A man appeared carrying a small child who had a sinister red beard."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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