8
  • All of these factors make them an ideal population in which to test these competing hypotheses about how language is learned.

in which to?

  • These children began learning English at an older age than Us natives and had more mature brains with which to tackle the test.

with which to?

Can't we just omit "in which" and "with which"?

  • All of these factors make them an ideal population to test these competing hypotheses about how language is learned.

  • These children began learning English at an older age than Us natives and had more mature brains to tackle the test.

Can somebody please explain the grammar here?

Just to be sure, can we we bring "to + simple verb" after "in which" and "at which"?

  • 1
    While you still have grammatically correct sentences if you omit those phrases, the meaning has become less precise. In the case of the first sentence with omission , Is the population the one to test the hypothesis? Are they the test subjects? Or are the test subjects only certain people within that population? This might be clear from context, but it can also be specified within the sentence itself, e.g. by adding the word "on" after "hypotheses" or after "learned" (or as you said). – HenryJekyll1886 Jul 28 '17 at 13:53
  • A very good question. – Dripura Sundari Sep 8 '17 at 18:23
  • One of the difficulties with the first sentence is that the word population is being used in two separate senses. One first reads it as a cultural population of people, but then has to revise that and substitute the idea of a test subject domain. This is called a garden path problem. You can cue the second meaning by explaining that it is a test subject domain. All of these factors make them an ideal test population for evaluating these competing hypotheses about how language is learned. I suspect the issue with in which is that it delays resolving this garden path problem. – Phil Sweet Nov 19 '17 at 13:55
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The first sentence should keep the "in which," because the population is being tested. Otherwise, it sounds like the population could be the testers who would be doing the testing on another group.

The second sentence is fine as is. Aharon suggests that the sentence should be clear about the source of the learning, the children or their brains. However, no matter what or how you learn, your brain does the learning. Attributing learning to the ear or tongue is like saying the microphone creates a recording instead of the actual voice recorder. People are smart. They understand this concept and deduce the meaning of a sentence in nanoseconds. Their brains would get the same meaning from either construction of the sentence. The brain favors plain language. Let's be plain here and kill this instance of "in which."

1

You can omit the "with which" or "in which but" the emphasis on the reason to register and what they conclude in those sentence will be lost in case of omitting them.

1

I see this as two omissions: the first is the grammatical "which," which is desired formally, and the second omission removes the preposition which is informational. The only way to remove the which without the preposition (not losing meaning) is informal. And the double omission remove more elegance which may be the aim of omission but not in this academic case.

  • "... more mature brains to tackle the test with."
  • "... an ideal population to test these competing hypotheses about how language is learned in."

The second shows how inappropriate the omission is in this type of text.

Looking for the rule, it is "to + simple verb ... preposition" to = "preposition + which to + simple verb ... ."

0

To answer your main question, Can't we just omit "in which" and "with which"? – No – if you want complete clarity. Omitting these prepositional modifiers might lead a reader to misconstrue the prepositional object ("population" in the first example) as the subject -- i.e., as if the population is doing the testing: "All of these factors make them an ideal population to test these competing hypotheses about how language is learned."

Likewise in the second example, "These children began learning English at an older age than Us natives and had more mature brains with which to tackle the test," omitting "with which" could make "brains" the subject. This is much more subtle, since we're talking about using their brains to learn English. But "brains" are different from "the children" as a whole, which could then include their skills for listening, hearing and producing speech involving the ear and tongue. (Incidentally, "learning...at an older age than us natives" is incorrect; think, "...than we natives did.")

Although such subject/object misunderstandings are unlikely here, and most people would figure out what you mean, why not be clear and correct? What do you feel might be wrong with using "in which" etc.? Maybe it sounds pedantic to less-educated people, but surely not to your audience.

  • Hi thanks for the detailed answer. But one thing is still not clear for me and that's 'to + simple form of verb' after 'with which'. Was the original sentence this: These children began learning English at an older age than Us natives and had more mature brains WHICH to tackle the test WITH? I thought after "which' we either bring a verb or a subject and a verb but here we have an infinite phrase. What grammar rule should I search to clearly understand this sentence? – Antonio Conte Jul 29 '17 at 4:41
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An awful lot of people have no problem at all using prepositions to end their sentences with! All these 'from which," "in which," "with which," and more are indeed created from the need to avoid dangling that pesky preposition at the end of that sentence. The more common phrasing above would be, "These children began learning English at an older age than Us natives and had more mature brains to tackle the test with." (no "which's" at all –– nor witches either!)

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It would seem, that in both examples--especially the first--the addition of the "in which" gives an added level of authority, and, in fact, specificity to the referent; here, population or brains. So I would say it is necessary--for a superiorly written text.

0

The use of with which (and, by analogy, to which and in which and suchlike) mimics the practice in French and other Latin-based languages. However, in French, for example, the idea of ending a sentence with a preposition (or, more properly, a post-position) is rarely an option, though you do hear phrases such as "Monsieur, votre steack... vous voulez des frites avec?". I find the longer phrases in English to be more elegant and unambiguous, and I know they would be preferred by 18-19C grammarians — but I could cite many historical instances where placing with at the end of the phrase was concise, idiomatic and entirely acceptable.

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If "in which to test" seems awkward it can be simply replaced with "for testing".

  • 2
    To me, the sentence "All of these factors make them an ideal population for testing these competing hypotheses ..." seems as likely to imply that the population will perform the testing as to imply that the testing will be performed on it. Do you see that as a problem with your suggestion? – Sven Yargs Oct 31 '17 at 3:44

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