Harvey drinks from a bottle, which looks funny.

Is it enforced that "which" corresponds here to the bottle and not to the way in which Harvey drinks?

Can ", which" be used to correspond to the full meaning of the first part of a sentence instead of just the noun right before the comma? Is there a general rule?

  • 3
    It could go either way (which might well be the intention), but the presence of the comma suggests that it applies to the entire prior sentence/phrase.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 14 '19 at 20:51
  • 2
    @HotLicks This is classically misleading as it could mean either - one of the problems of using "which". But you could get around the problem by saying "Harvey drinks from a funny-looking bottle" or "Harvey's drinking from a bottle looks funny"
    – WS2
    Jan 14 '19 at 23:56

The presence of a comma preceding the word "which" indicates a pause when speaking / reading the sentence, and also that the words following the comma are not essential to the overall meaning of the sentence. Therefore, I would say that the phrase "which looks funny" is optional to the entire sentence (you could omit it entirely), but that it also refers to the entire sentence (because you have actually mentioned it).

Conversely, the absence of a comma separating "bottle" and "which" suggests (1) that there should be no pause when speaking / reading the sentence; (2) that the following words are essential to the sentence; and (3) that they refer directly to the preceding word, i.e. to the bottle, and not to the act of drinking.

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