They are two of the rare people who believe in ancient myths.

Someone told me that the "who" here describes "they", but in my view the "who" describes the people. Which is right? What about "Jasper White is one of those rare people who believes in ancient", What is the function of 'who' here?

  • 1
    You're right, or near right. "Who" is the subject of the relative clause "who believe in ancient myths", this relative clause modifies "rare people", and the antecedent of "who" is the NP containing the relative clause, "the rare people who believe in ancient myths".
    – Greg Lee
    Aug 26, 2019 at 3:18
  • Since they belong to the group of rare ancient-myth believing people, who could be interpreted as referring to both them (as two individuals) and the group as a whole (to which they belong). However, in terms of the syntax, who is part of the noun phrase the rare people who believe in ancient myths. You could replace who with that. Or you could dispense with who (or that) altogether and just say they are two of the rare people believing in ancient myths. It's not entirely clear what kind of interpretation you are looking for here. Aug 26, 2019 at 3:21
  • There is a set of people who believe in ancient myths, and "they" are a member of this set. Thus the relative clause belongs in the embedded NP, where it is modifying "rare people".
    – BillJ
    Aug 26, 2019 at 9:17
  • 1
    Who refers back to rare people, not they. Please see also English Language Learners. Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Aug 26, 2019 at 10:25

1 Answer 1


Delete the "of the"

They are two rare people, who believe in ...

and it references both "rare people" and "they", which have been equated by "is" and thus are referenced equivalently.

Inserting "of the" does not change much about that.

Whereas the prediction, that "who ..." were not referencing "people", would be atypical and leave the kind of "rare people" underspecified. Placement matters and the immediate situation of "people" and "who" next to each other invariably determines the scope of the surface form. However, the subordinating "of the" is merely supposed to disambiguate that it's the kind of people, not the two persons per se, what is rare.

  • 1
    You just can't "delete" what is not convenient to you!
    – Kris
    Aug 26, 2019 at 10:25
  • @Kris I suggesting putting the part back in to observe that the principle fact of left recursion does not change.
    – vectory
    Aug 26, 2019 at 19:22

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