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Can we reduce adjective clause in this sentence?

"He'd also tell me off for cooking food that made the house smell"

Is the following sentence correct?

"He'd also tell me off for cooking food making the house smell"

  • Your second version is grammatically valid, but idiomatically clumsy. One of the problems is that syntactically, the participial clause making the house smell could be adverbially modifying the verb cooking, OR adjectivally modifying the noun food. – FumbleFingers Oct 4 at 12:41
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    You can, but there's possibly a slight difference in the meaning. In your first example, it was only food that made the house smell that you were told off for cooking. The natural interpretation of the second is that you were told off for cooking food in general because it made the house smell. Syntactically, the first subordinate clause is a relative one modifying "food", while the second is a gerund-participial one functioning as an adjunct in clause structure, where it has a resultative interpretation. Note that "thus" could be added: "..., thus making the house smell". – BillJ Oct 4 at 13:02
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With a syntactically close example

(2a) He was great at buying pictures that brightened up the rooms

it is clear that not all such sentences sound natural (or even acceptable) when using the reduced form

(2b) ?/*He was great at buying pictures brightening up the rooms.

But with

(3a) She had the knack of buying cardigans which matched her skirts

and

(3b) She had the knack of buying cardigans matching her skirts

I'd say that the participial clause version is at least as idiomatic as the relative clause version.

I think this shows that the restriction is not grammatical. I believe that whether or not the participial clause version sounds natural depends on how easily the clause is felt to modify the preceding noun (phrase). The fact that all these examples have past-tense relative clauses also has significance. I'd say that 'He is great at buying pictures brightening up the rooms' sounds more natural than 'He was great at buying pictures brightening up the rooms'.

.....

The variant "He'd also tell me off for cooking food making the house smell" is, I'd say, grammatical but substantially less natural-sounding than the version with the relative clause. It has the added disadvantage of two closely placed -ing forms, perhaps having the garden-path misdirection towards "He'd also tell me off for cooking food and making ...". Even replacing 'food' with 'enchiladas' would probably affect naturalness.

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