I recently posted a question on a Spanish language forum asking what the equivalent in Spanish would be for the use of which in a phrase such as

he refused, which decision proved disastrous

(which comes from the Oxford English/Spanish dictionary)

Someone on the forum is saying that this use of which is incorrect English, and that this fragment is in some way artificial, and would never occur in a correct English sentence.

I can easily think of sentences such as

The king refused his support for this endeavour, which decision left the duke without aid.

It's a formal, perhaps unusual, use, but perfectly good English.

Can anyone point me to examples online which would back this argument? I can't find any except in the Free Dictionary (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/which), definition 10, which is not quite the same thing. Also, perhaps, a pointer to the grammatical rule which defines this usage of which this is an example.

Edit: someone in the Spanish language forum pointed out this entry -- https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=606 -- which points out that this is a 'relative-determinative' usage. Any other links would be welcomed!

Thanks very much!

Edit: This was the entry from which I drew my example. I don't know whether it's correct or not, or whether it was the intention of Oxford to present it as a fragment or as a whole sentence, but it does exist. From the Oxford Spanish/English dictionary that comes bundled with the Mac OS. Entry for adjective, 2a enter image description here

  • 5
    Yes, "which" is a determinative here. Such examples are rare and formal, verging on the archaic, but not ungrammatical. "Which decision proved disastrous" is a supplementary (non-defining) relative clause. The relativised element is "which decision", which has the preceding clause "he refused" as antecedent. In your other example, again the relativised element is "which decision", which has the whole preceding clause as antecedent.
    – BillJ
    May 14, 2019 at 16:06
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    I'd say it's a stylized resequencing / reduction of He refused, a decision which proved disastrous, but you could also think of it as a stylized augmentation of He refused, which proved disastrous. The usage has been around at least a couple of centuries, and as you say, it's "perfectly good English". May 14, 2019 at 16:06
  • 1
    I agree with @BillJ's comment above. I would have called it a "nonrestrictive relative clause." The "which" is an adjective modifier of "decision" (or perhaps a Determiner -- I'm not sure), and the NP "which decision" is a relative expression that is subject of the relative clause. It is, as you say, perfectly good English.
    – Greg Lee
    May 14, 2019 at 16:15
  • 2
    The antecedent of a non-defining (or non-restrictive) relative clause is not limited to NPs. It can consist of virtually any element, including clauses like "he refused" in the OP's example. It's only in defining relative clauses that the antecedent is normally required to be a nominal.
    – BillJ
    May 14, 2019 at 16:42
  • 1
    It was you, not me, who said, quote, "The antecedent must be a noun or noun phrase, like this...", hence my response that it does not.
    – BillJ
    May 14, 2019 at 17:24

4 Answers 4


Well, if you're just looking for usage examples, it's easy enough to do a Google search for the phrase "which decision proved," which method will give you quite a few examples. (They will include many quotations of a passage from Little Women involving a "second tumble down the beanstalk.") Of course, you can also substitute different nouns and verbs for "decision" and "prove," which tactic will give you all sorts of additional evidence to cite.

  • 4
    Or just do a search on the current page for which method will give you :) May 14, 2019 at 16:08
  • Right, see Google books for this: "The Supreme Court of Ohio, after this abundant and most extraordinary proof before them, ignored the people's sacred right of eminent domain, and simply decided that these roads be ousted from charging less rates per 100 pounds on tank car shipments, as compared with barreled oil, which decision proved ineffective."
    – Lambie
    May 14, 2019 at 16:59
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    @FumbleFingers: Spoilsport! But there is another one... May 14, 2019 at 19:50
  • 2
    @Cerberus Yes, but I prefer searching for "which method will give you", which method will give you the most hits. May 14, 2019 at 20:06
  • 2
    Lambie, by no means did I intend to suggest that EVERY result in a Google search for "which [noun] [verb]" would be relevant to the OP's quest for evidence, and if you read more carefully I think you'll find that that isn't, in fact, what I wrote.
    – Nanigashi
    May 14, 2019 at 22:46

You will probably find many results if you search for relative adjective, which term you will find in Merriam–Webster and elsewhere:

Relative adjective: a pronominal adjective that introduces a clause qualifying an antecedent (as which in:

“our next meeting will be on Monday, at which time a new chairman will be elected”

) or a clause functioning as a substantive (as which in

“I do not know which course I should follow”


(Their second example might arguably be called an interrogative adjective or similar.)

This is indeed perfectly good English, nor is it very uncommon. Be paranoid in linguistics whenever someone tells you x is "never used"!

Other terms are attributive relative (pronoun) and adjectival relative (pronoun).

  • 1
    This was not the question, was it? I can imagine thousands of sentences with all kinds of relative adjectives or whatever else. However, that does not obviate the OP's incorrect fragment....
    – Lambie
    May 14, 2019 at 22:05
  • 1
    @Lambie: The question asked for examples (which I have given) and "the rule" in order to prove that it is a valid construction (to which I have contributed terminology and an explanation from a creditable source). I don't see anything off in the asker's examples. May 14, 2019 at 22:24
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    He posted: |he refused, which decision proved disastrous | claiming it is a definition in a dictionary. It may be, but it is not a sentence and it is not grammatical. Also, your "at which" examples are fine but they are not what is asking about.
    – Lambie
    May 14, 2019 at 23:27
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    Its analysis as an adjective is wrong. In the OP's example, "which" has the properties of a determinative, and hence belongs in that class. Never use dictionaries for grammar!
    – BillJ
    May 15, 2019 at 12:18
  • 1
    Yes, it's a dependent in NP structure but so are all determiners. The primary function of a determiner is to mark a noun as definite or indefinite. In this case "which" marks the noun "decision" as definite. I don't approve of using dictionaries for grammar, but the Oxford also classifies it as a determiner: link. The reclassification of 'limiting' adjectives (as distinct from 'descriptive' adjectives) as determinatives occurred quite a few years ago.
    – BillJ
    May 15, 2019 at 16:39

Oxford's online English-Spanish dictionary has the exact same example you mention:

cuál, pron.

Pronunciación /(h)wɪtʃ/ /wɪtʃ/


2 2.1 (as relative)

we arrived at two, by which time they had gone — llegamos a las dos y para entonces ya se habían ido
Más frases de ejemplo
in which case — en cuyo caso
he refused, which decision proved disastrous — se negó, decisión que resultó desastrosa

Screenshot just in case they change the examples from time to time.

I also found a similar usage with "refused" in an online article:

The construction manager at the site offered the rigging contractor “a set of fresh slings for the job”, but he refused, which decision led to the accident.

And another one with "declined", which is a synonym of "refused" when used in the same way as an intransitive verb:

His Honour declined, which decision was affirmed on appeal.

It doesn't seem to be a common usage, and it also looks tied to legal texts, but the examples are there.

There may be more usages like these if you search for other variants: action instead of decision, conceded instead of refused, etc.


"He refused the offer, a decision which proved to be disastrous."

is contemporary English for, and with the same basic meaning as:

"He refused the offer, a decision that proved disastrous."

The issue for me is having only "He refused" followed by a comma and then the clause. As is the case with the OP's fragment: he refused, which decision proved disastrous.

I would accept:

  • They made him the offer. He refused.
  • They made him the offer. He refused it.

I don't accept:

  • They made him the offer. He refused, which decision proved disastrous.

I would accept:

  • They made him the offer. He refused it, a decision which proved disastrous.

Refuse on its own is commonly used without anything after it in response to a question's verb. Speaking:

  • Do you accept to go?
  • No, I refuse [implied: to go].
  • Yes, I accept [implied: to go.]
  • Yes, I refused to go, which proved disastrous.

The which clause (above) is anaphoric to the main clause. If we don't have the refuse to go, it would not make sense. It's interpretation depends on the entire antecedent's meaning.

  • Do you accept the offer?
  • No, I refuse it.

Generally, one would not create a sentence with the verb refuse unless it contains either a direct object or verb-to-verb structure (such as:) He refused to go, which was a problem. He refused the tea, which was a problem. One wouldn't write: He refused, which was a problem. Unless it is a novel or a dialogue of some sort.

That is because refuse and accept (and probably others) become anaphoric and require the full verb phrase (refuse to go) to make it make sense.

Also, the OP's question is not a dictionary "entry", as far as I can determine.

It is on some dodgy sites.

This is an example of a grammatical use of the which determiner, with ineffective instead of disastrous:

"The Supreme Court of Ohio, after this abundant and most extraordinary proof before them, ignored the people's sacred right of eminent domain, and simply decided that these roads be ousted from charging less rates per 100 pounds on tank car shipments, as compared with barreled oil, which decision proved ineffective."

the phrase refers to "simply decided that these roads"


EDIT to my answer: Please go to this site and look at how the verb refuse is given in examples to English languages learners. There is refuse with nothing after it, refuse with a direct object (noun) and refuse followed by verb +to+verb.

use of the verb refuse in English

Those examples basically confirm what I have been saying about the verb refuse.

[Please note: The OP has now posted the page from his Mac. The phrase is can only be called a Mac disaster. If the page reproduced in the question is an example of what is on Mac computers, Apple should be ashamed of itself. Really. I'm speechless. Speechless! No wonder I have to work so hard, and I don't mean here. I mean correcting translations into English.]

  • 1
    Lambie, on the original page at Spanish Language SE, I thought you were rejecting the way "which" was being used in the OP's question. Now what I'm hearing is that you object to "He refused" as an independent clause, standing on its own. Well, the thing he refused would be clear from the context. But OP's original question at Spanish Language SE could still be answered, regardless. You could write an answer that starts from a revised premise, if the original premise doesn't perfectly match the World According to Lambie. May 15, 2019 at 4:03
  • @aparente001 I cannot be responsible for people's misprision. It's perfectly clear that I object to the entire phrase: "he refused, which decision proved disastrous" and, therefore, to its translation into Spanish, as it would reproduce the same mistake one finds in the English.Until you have understood my point, which is perfectly clear there and here, don't feel at liberty to say the world according to me. You have not earned it.
    – Lambie
    May 15, 2019 at 14:15
  • Also, the second example given in the OP's question and it is perfectly grammatical: "The king refused his support for this endeavor, which decision left the duke without aid." EQUALS The king refused his support for this endeavor, which decision left the duke without aid. The last bit is the same as: a decision which left the duke without aid. Which, in Spanish would be: una decisión que etc. [The OP left out the word "for""]
    – Lambie
    May 15, 2019 at 14:24
  • Thank you for pointing out the missing word "for." I have edited the question to add it. May 15, 2019 at 18:55
  • @aparente001 Should I be sarcastic or not about "the World According to Lambie"? You say that to me, but according to a poster on the other forum, I am the one not being nice. The World According to Lambie has three linguistic points about the verb refuse, and one main one about the which determiner being the same as: a noun which. Finally, there is an ELL site I posted with sample sentences, non of which are like the OP's.
    – Lambie
    May 16, 2019 at 15:24

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