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There are numerous small animals like field mice and voles which you do not see.

In the above sentence, how do you determine if which modifies voles or field mice and voles?

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Without punctuation, the sentence is somewhat ambiguous, as pointed out in the other answer.

However, as written, the sentence would most likely be understood as follows:

     "Which" modifies neither "voles" nor "field mice".

     The word "animals" is modified by:

  • "which you do not see"

         and

  • "like field mice and voles"

  • a good point, it makes sense. Thanks. – Charlie May 15 at 0:43
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    Not necessarily. It is ambiguous. – Hot Licks May 15 at 2:20
  • Hello, Nmath. "like field mice and voles" is not a clause. And, as Hot Licks says, both OP's suggestions are possible (though the 'There are numerous small animals, like field mice and voles, which you do not see' sense is more likely). – Edwin Ashworth May 15 at 18:41
  • @EdwinAshworth thanks for your correction, I will edit my answer – Nmath May 16 at 4:13
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There is a certain ambiguity, which you would normally use punctuation to prevent. Let's try some examples.

There are numerous small animals - like field mice and voles - which you do not see.

It is the small animals you do not see. Field mice and voles are examples. 'which' modifies the animals. Replacing the dashes with commas gives the same meaning.

There are numerous small animals - like field mice and voles which you do not see.

There are numerous small animals, and field mice and voles (which you do not see) are examples. You may see the other animals. "Which" modifies field mice and voles.

There are numerous small animals like field mice, and voles which you do not see.

There are 1) numerous small animals like field mice 2) voles which you do not see. "Which" modifies voles.

Without punctuation context and sense is most likely to give you the meaning.

  • thanks so much. You made a great point: Without punctuation context and sense is most likely to give you the meaning. In this particular example, I go with Nmath. – Charlie May 15 at 5:16
  • @Charlie 'Let's eat, Charlie' vs 'Let's eat Charlie' might have been problematic in certain environments 150 years or so ago. – Edwin Ashworth May 16 at 8:33

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