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Is this sentence grammatically correct?

Not a single crease could be seen on Laxmibai's forehead, who sat erect and bright-eyed.

I was told that the subject of the relative clause is Laxmibai and not her forehead and thus this sentence is ungrammatical. But it seems perfectly fine to me ... what am I missing?

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  • It was Laxmibai, not her forehead, who sat. You could get round the ambiguity by saying "...on the forehead of Laxmibai, who...". Feb 5 '19 at 17:29
  • If the subject of the relative clause is Laxmibai, that would make it grammatical, not ungrammatical. Surely, you mean to express the fact that it's Laxmibai who is setting erect and bright-eyed—not her forehead? I would call this a matter of style, not of grammar. (Although some people disagree on that point.) Feb 5 '19 at 17:29
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    "Who" requires a human antecedent, but the reader automatically takes the antecedent here to be the nearest noun, the non-human "forehead", when the intended antecedent is, of course, "Laxmibai". It's for this reason that it is unacceptable (but nevertheless understandable).
    – BillJ
    Feb 5 '19 at 17:48
  • @BillJ “ungrammatical but understandable”: a good paradox. But if enough writing starts to ‘break’ that rule of antecedents, it will, presumably become established usage and the rule (which is no more than a description of usage) will have to be modified. But here might be another paradox. What if for “who” we substitute “as she”? To me that sounds natural and correct, though strictly the same objection applies as applies to “who”. Or does it?
    – Tuffy
    Feb 5 '19 at 18:09
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    It's not correct that who absolutely requires a human antecedent. Inanimate object can sometimes be referred to in that way. Consider the following discussion of the phrase the car whose windshield wipers weren't working was driving in the fast lane. Feb 5 '19 at 19:07
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The context is:

She never tired of listening to people even if it demanded endless patience from her.

There were times when the rest of the people in the courtroom would begin to get fidgety, but not a single crease could be seen on Lakshmibai's forehead, who sat erect and bright-eyed.

Given the context, I would have written it differently:

There were times when the rest of the people in the courtroom would begin to get fidgety, but not a single crease could be seen on Lakshmibai's forehead, and she sat erect and bright-eyed.

OR

There were times when the rest of the people in the courtroom would begin to get fidgety, but Lakshmibai, on whose forehead not a single crease could be seen, sat erect and bright-eyed.

Having said that, I don't think it's ungrammatical -- or even unnatural -- as is.

Having an antecedent of a relative word not adjacent to the relative word is a dime a dozen. It alone cannot be the reason for marking it ungrammatical.

It's only when the context is such that having an antecedent not adjacent to the relative word makes it hard to figure out what the real antecedent is.

Here, it is easily understood that the antecedent of 'who' is Lakshmibai, not her forehead, considering:

(1) You don't use 'who' to refer to someone's forehead, unless you want to make it look like a human, which you don't in this context.

(2) A forehead could 'sit erect' but it could never 'sit bright-eyed' unless you have a really peculiar context, which you don't here.

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  • This is completely wrong.
    – sas08
    Feb 6 '19 at 15:48
  • @sas08 Care to point out why you think so?
    – JK2
    Feb 7 '19 at 1:23

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