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"To you (Right Honorable my very good Lord) of right do they belong: for to whom shall I rather present the first fruits of my learning than to your Lordship: who nourished then both me and them, when there was scarce any being to me or them? And whose just and upright carriage of causes, whose zeal to justice and honorable courtesy to all men, have purchased you a reverend and worthy respect of all men in all parts of this kingdom, where you are known. And to your good Ladyship they do of great right belong likewise; whose religion, justice, and honorable admittance of my unworthy service to your Ladyship do challenge at my hands the uttermost of what ever I may be able to perform."

This is from a 1612 text and I'm having a hard time understanding it. I think first and second bolded 'whose' represent the addressed lord and lady respectively, but then is it grammatically possible to put a relative pronoun at the beginning of the sentence in modern English?

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  • They're sentence fragments. Starting one with 'Whose' (non-interrogative usage) is very unusual nowadays. The whole passage would need a considerable overhaul in modern English. Apr 22 at 11:57

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The one realtive word that most commonly starts a sentence in modern English is which.

He was a product of his environment. As the twig is bent so grows the bough and so forth. His twig had been bent nicely by the military boarding school into which he had been stuffed as a small child. Which, for some unknown reason, he still thought well of although every story he told me about it had some depressing or sadistic point to make. ( The Adventures of The Stainless Steel Rat; Harry Harrison; Garden City, New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc. 1972)

Recently, he had purchased the two-story brick structure -- or rather, he and the bank owned it together until he paid off the mortgage. Which, since his profits were up and he was making double payments, he hoped wouldn't take too long. (Against the storm; Martin, Kat.; Don Mills, Ont. : Mira Books, 2011)

Now even the lowliest Golf drives like an Audi in disguise. Which, actually, is exactly what it is. (The Best Car You Can Buy for $20,000; Popular Mechanics, 2014)

Examples of whose as a relative pronoun at the start of a sentence are to be found in modern English, though many will find them questionable.

And, as well, within his little world of Devon, means or no, he came from an honorable family, whose honor went back to times before the Conquest. Whose distinction , however, was a matter of cloudy memory. ( Death of the Fox; George P. Garrett; 1971)

This is a Europe (and Germany) which can't service half of its planes, boats and tanks, which spend most of their lives in the dock or workshop. Whose machines, when they are operational, tend to break down, or are on the verge of obsolescence, or are just plain badly designed. (Long read | The European Union is a liberal empire, and it is about to fall; Wolfgang Streeck (Max Planck Institut), 2019)

The impressionistic doc captures people who have long been contending with the ravages of war and terror, most recently inflicted by ISIS. Whose members, incidentally, at one point tried to kidnap Rosi. He managed to obtain access to some very sensitive material while also filming fragments of everyday life. (Gianfranco Rosi on Capturing Scars of ISIS-Inflicted Trauma in ‘Notturno’; Nick Vivarelli; Variety 2020)

There are already at least two or three generations of women who grew up in a world where their gender was not considered a liability. Whose parents, for the most part, taught them the sky was the limit. These women are now dominating university classrooms and professional schools including fields such as medicine and law, where women used to need not even apply. (Mia Rabson, Winnipeg Free Press, 2013)

In answer to your question, it is possible to put relative pronouns at the beginning of a sentence in modern English. Some might argue the stylistic merits of doing so, or quibble about the punctuation, but the fact remains there are plenty of examples out there.

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  • This boils down to one's chosen definition of 'sentence'. I'd label 'Women whose parents, for the most part, taught them the sky was the limit.' and 'Whose parents, for the most part, taught them the sky was the limit.' sentence fragments. I won't comment on acceptability other than to say I'd be very wary of using them in formal writing. Jul 26, 2021 at 10:40
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is it grammatically possible to put a relative pronoun at the beginning of the sentence in modern English?

No. In the context in which “whose” is being used, it is a relative pronoun that is part of a relative clause.

A relative clause is an adjectival clause and as such cannot be the subject of a verb.

“You (referent and subject), whose dog is barking (relative clause) and whose wife is ugly (relative clause), are telling (verb) me that my dog is ugly and my wife is barking! This is outrageous!”

*“Whose dog is barking (relative clause) and whose wife is ugly (relative clause) are telling me (verb) that my dog is ugly and my wife is barking! This is outrageous!”

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    Is "Whose house this is, is a lucky man!" ungrammatical?
    – Stuart F
    Jul 26, 2021 at 9:11
  • Yes, you need a genitive.
    – Greybeard
    Jul 26, 2021 at 20:54
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Look at the passage as one long sentence.

"To you (Right Honorable my very good Lord) of right do they belong:

[The thing - "They"] belong to you [My Lord - Lord of the Manor] by right. That is: You have rightful ownership of the thing...

for to whom shall I rather present the first fruits of my learning than to your Lordship:

Because you are the rightful owner - who else should I be presenting the benefits [fruits of my labour / learning]?

who nourished then both me and them, when there was scarce any being to me or them?

Because you supported me when I had nothing and while I was learning. Therefore [I feel] this give you the rightful ownership of the benefits of my learning - I give you 'first refusal' to benefit from the fruits of my learning that you have supported...

And whose just and upright carriage of causes, whose zeal to justice and honorable courtesy to all men, have purchased you a reverend and worthy respect of all men in all parts of this kingdom, where you are known.

[just and upright carriage of causes] - Justifiable and honourable actions in supporting me (the good cause)

[whose zeal to justice and honorable courtesy to all men] . Your [The Lordship's] desire to support justice and honourable actions and common courtesy...

And to your good Ladyship they do of great right belong likewise;

This right of ownership also belongs to your wife [Ladyship] - speaking directly to the Lady...

whose religion, justice, and honorable admittance of my unworthy service to your Ladyship do challenge at my hands the uttermost of what ever I may be able to perform."

Who, because of your [her] religious beliefs your belief in justice and your agreement to allow me[admittance - admit - allow in] to do [the thing], this has made anything I am able to do in return 'unworthy' or insufficient to ever repay you.

The writer is saying that, in their opinion, the Lord of the Manor and his wife [Ladyship] have a moral right to also benefit from the 'fruits of [the writer's] learning', that is, the writer wishes to express their gratitude for the Lord & Lady's support, which was the only reason they were able to learn. The writer wishes to give the Lord and Lady the opportunity to gain some [possibly] financial benefit in return.

The writer thinks that the Lord and Lady have this right because, without their support, the writer could not have learned the things that they have.

The writer is also expressing modesty, by saying that what ever they [the writer] do {at my [own] hands or by my actions}, it will never be enough to sufficiently repay the Lord & Lady's generous support.

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    We are more or less agreed on what is being said. The question is is it grammatically possible to put a relative pronoun at the beginning of the sentence in modern English? You have not answered this.
    – Greybeard
    Jul 24, 2021 at 17:28

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