Is the relative clause in this sentence grammatically correct? If not, why?

The screens were there for bulletins but usually showed only mindfulness videos, which made him uneasy and avert his eyes.

  1. ". . . which made him uneasy."

  2. ". . . which made him avert his eyes."

Both constructions independently seem fine to me, but when conjoined something seems amiss.

  • 1
    I think this is zeugma (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeugma_and_syllepsis , Type 2). You could get round it by saying 'made him avert his eyes uneasily'. – Kate Bunting Nov 22 '18 at 16:47
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    Please drop the preamble “The screens were there for bulletins but usually showed only mindfulness videos…” matters not. “… which made him uneasy and avert his eyes” will always be wrong, because of the context. “… which made him uneasy…” would be fine by itself. “… which made him avert his eyes…” would be fine by itself. Because the states of being which engender those verbs are not mutually compatible, you need “… which made him uneasy and caused him to avert his eyes." – Robbie Goodwin Nov 22 '18 at 19:36
  • @Kate I think the construction is close to a zeugma: ".. . which made him miss his mother and the bus," but the objects aren't quite that distant. – Zan700 9 hours ago – Zan700 Nov 23 '18 at 14:09
  • @Robbie Is "made him avert his eyes," not defensible? So, " . . .which caused him to be uneasy and made him [to?]avert his eyes." – Zan700 Nov 23 '18 at 14:14
  • "… made him avert his eyes…” is still fine by itself; the point is that the continuity of the whole is spoiled by mismatched parts. See Gary, below. – Robbie Goodwin Nov 23 '18 at 14:24

The thing that's amiss is a lack of sufficient parallelism.  We have the subject "which", the verb "made", the direct object "him", and finally a pair of coordinated object complements, "uneasy" and "[to] avert his eyes".  "Uneasy" is simply an adjective.  "[To] avert his eyes" is an infinitive phrase.  These two complements attempt to have two different relationships with the one direct object in question. 

If both complements were of the same type, your proposed structure would work:

. . . which made him uneasy and restless. 
. . . which made him cringe and avert his eyes. 

Of course, two complete and separate predicates would also be sufficiently parallel:

. . . which left him uneasy and made him avert his eyes. 

  • I believe "him" is the indirect object, but "lack of sufficient parallelism" seems to get at the infelicity of the construction. Is there a rule that a verb like "make" can't have an adjective and an infinitive phrase as direct objects? – Zan700 Nov 23 '18 at 4:18
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    There's a rule that says coordinate elements must be parallel. The governing verb doesn't change that. What's important is that the separate coordinate elements do the same job in the same way. When coordinated, they're doing that one job at the same time. Also, we should be able to replace an indirect object with a prepositional phrase. "Him" doesn't seem indirect here because "which made avert his eyes for/to him" fails. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 23 '18 at 14:12
  • But isn't parallelism a kind of style? Add to that the peculiarities of certain verbs. Wik: "Make is a distributive ditransitive verb, where the two objects are semantically an entity and a quality, a source and a result, etc. These verbs attribute one object to the other. In English, make, name, appoint, consider, turn into and others are examples: The state of New York made Hillary Clinton a Senator. (Which made his eyes avert for him?) – Zan700 Nov 23 '18 at 15:18
  • Ah. I see a clear difference between "they made her a senator" and "they gave her an appointment". The first pairs a direct object with an object complement. The second pairs an indirect object with a direct object. However, regardless of how we label the second argument of this verb in this context, it still represents one function in its clause. Both parts of the coordination have to fulfill that same function. Here, parallelism is a syntactic requirement, not merely an example of good style. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 23 '18 at 15:48

"..made him uneasy and avert his eyes.", is a defining relative clause. This is an essential part of the sentence, therefore you should use "that" instead of "which". "Which" is reserved for non-defining clauses.

The screens were there for bulletins but usually showed only mindfulness videos that made him uneasy and avert his eyes.

  • What makes you reject the possibilities that the clause is non-restrictive or even supplemental? – Gary Botnovcan Nov 23 '18 at 0:24
  • @Alex As Gary notes, as the sentence is constructed, all mindfulness videos make him uneasy, so it's a nonrestrictive relative clause. – Zan700 Nov 23 '18 at 4:34

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