Here is the sentence.

According to economic signaling theory, consumers may perceive the frequency with which an unfamiliar brand is advertised as a cue that the brand is of high quality.

I have been perplexed by the structure of this sentence and the usage of which.

Here is my thought. The main structure is

Consumers(Subject) perceive(Verb) the frequency(Object) as a cue(Complement).

Here is my question.

What the role of 'which' in the sentence. Is it a relative pronoun?
Why there is a preposition(with) preceding 'which'? What is the role of 'with' in the sentence? Could I change 'with' to other preposition? Also, what is the role of the word that in the sentence 'that the brand is of high quality'.

Thank you!


Yes, "which" is a relative pronoun modifying "frequency" in "consumers may perceive the frequency". The relative clause itself is "an unfamiliar brand is advertised with a frequency (->which)". In the formation of relative clauses, a relative expression containing a relative pronoun is moved to the beginning of the relative clause.

In simple constructions, the relative expression may be simply a relative pronoun, but here it is the PP containing the relative pronoun, "with which". If the relative expression contains just the relative pronoun, you wind up with "which an unfamiliar brand is advertised with", which is also grammatical but in a less elevated style.

The preposition "with" makes sense because it expresses a coherent relative clause. I can't think of another preposition which could go here, but there might be one.

  • Hi, Lee. Thank you so much. Your explanation has solved my question. I just want to ask another question. If you have time, I hope you can help me. I was wondering whether "with" in this preposition + relative pronoun is decided by the word "advertise" in the following relative expression. e.g. "He is the man to whom you should talk." Adding the preposition "to" to precede relative pronoun "whom" is because it is necessary for the verb "talk" to identify the object. Also, what is the role of "as a cue" in the sentence, is it an adverbial modifier for the verb "perceive"? Thanks for your time – HuoQ May 12 '17 at 6:45
  • The questions you're asking about word choice do not have anything to do with the entire relative clause construction. Consider word choice one clause at a time, and ask which prepositions would make sense in that clause. Trying to reason about the relative clause construction as a whole without analyzing it into individual clauses is just confusing. – Greg Lee May 12 '17 at 7:07
  • Thank you, Lee. I think I am still a little confrusing. I need to search more information related to relative clauses. Thanks again! – HuoQ May 14 '17 at 10:03

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