Example: I punched the man's nose, who cried in pain.

I just feel like it's refering to the nose instead of the man, even though the meaning is clear.

  • 3
    It is referring to the man's nose, which is why it sounds weird. You can't really use a possessive as antecedent for a relative clause, because a possessive modifies and precedes a head noun, which will be closer to the relative pronoun and therefore automatically selected as its antecedent. Consider a separate sentence; you can't put everything into a relative clause. – John Lawler Aug 22 '19 at 21:15
  • “I punched the man on the nose, and he cried in pain”. We generally talk about punching people, not noses, and we certainly never talk about noses crying out in pain. Also, the relative clause very easily gets interpreted as a restrictive clause, which makes the punch and the cry independent of one another; also not what you’re after. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 22 '19 at 21:23
  • Thanks a lot, John and Janus. – Thiago Aug 23 '19 at 0:36
  • When I punched the man's nose, he cried in pain. – Nigel J Aug 23 '19 at 6:12
  • How about, ‘I punched a man’s nose and he cried out in pain’. – Jelila Aug 23 '19 at 8:31

Can I use “who” after a possessive? Example: I punched the man's nose, who cried in pain.

The Answer is yes However in the example shown you cannot. It would have to be a relatively unusual/special sentence for you to be able to use who after a possessive.

I punched the man's bodyguard, who cried in pain.

I tried to calm the man's wife, who cried hysterically, when she saw his injuries.

The first example could arguably, be said to be ambiguous. Who cried in pain? (we can deduce it is most likely the bodyguard but we have not actually written that). Whilst in the second example "who" is definitely the wife.

  • I would say that, idiomatically and grammatically, the first is not ambiguous. – Nigel J Aug 23 '19 at 6:14
  • @Nigel J; Thanks for editing the typo. I personally agree with your comment and I have now edited my answer to reflect that. However I am sure someone will say it is ambiguous. – Brad Aug 23 '19 at 8:56

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