0

"The boss expressed his displeasure about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday , which had caused the delay of projects approval."

Is the sentence grammatically correct ? if so , the "which" is referring to the boss's displeasure or the absent of staffs ?

8
  • 1
    Presumably it was the absence of staff at the meeting which caused the delay. The staff means the whole body of employees, or some members of it - you can't call an individual member 'a staff'. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 8:56
  • ok what about the which clause ? the which is refering to the absence of staff or the displeasure ? Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 10:18
  • "which" could also refer to the meeting, which could also have delayed projects; people's understanding of business and the particular company will affect how they interpret it. (The whole sentence is littered with errors, and while it's common in English to expect people to guess the referent of "which", you should fix other mistakes.) Upon re-reading, it's not clear whether the displeasure was expressed at the meeting or is about absences at the meeting.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 11:20
  • As I said in my original comment, the sentence seems to say that it was the absence of staff from the meeting which caused the delay, and therefore the boss's displeasure. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 11:44
  • if which refers to the absence of staff from the meeting then the which subordinate clause is modifying the noun phrase rather than the entire independent clause . Is the sentence a valid construction ? How would you rephrase the entire sentence ? Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 17:02

2 Answers 2

-1

Consider what the different referents would do.

The boss

So long as which is referring to the boss's expression of displeasure, the phrase in square brackets doesn't change how the sentence is parsed; it doesn't need to be considered:

? The boss expressed his displeasure [about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday], which had caused the delay of the project's approval.

The different verb tenses don't work here. If the which is really meant to refer to the boss's displeasure, it should have been phrased differently:

  1. ✔ The boss expressed his displeasure [about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday], which caused the delay of the project's approval.
  2. ✔ The boss had expressed his displeasure [about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday], which caused the delay of the project's approval.
  3. ✔ The boss had expressed his displeasure [about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday], which had caused the delay of the project's approval.

So if the sentence is interpreted this way, it's at least stylistically dubious in the original version.


The staff

Changing the referent of which changes the way the sentence is parsed:

? The boss expressed his displeasure about [the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday, which had caused the delay of the project's approval].

There is nothing wrong with the verb tenses in this interpretation, but while we are declaring which to refer to the staff, there is further ambiguity. It's not clear which of the following is being described:

  1. Staff [who had caused the delay of the project's approval] were missing from the meeting.
  2. [Staff were missing from the meeting], causing the project's approval to be delayed.

Depending on this further interpretation, the sentence can be rephrased to avoid the ambiguity:

  1. ✔ The boss expressed his displeasure at the meeting yesterday about the absence of the staff who had caused the delay of the project's approval.
  2. ✔ The boss expressed his displeasure about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday being the cause of the delay of the project's approval.

Note that in either interpretation, even though we've interpreted the referent of which in the original sentence to be the staff, and not the boss's displeasure, the sentence still needs to be rephrased (and the which removed) if further ambiguity is to be avoided.


The which referent

The original sentence suffers from an overall problem. No matter what which is interpreted as referring to, something will be wrong with it—at least stylistically.

Either (1) which refers to the the boss's displeasure and the verb tenses need to be modified—although which can be kept or (2) which refers to the staff and it needs to be removed along with other changes in order to prevent further ambiguity.

Everything being equal, a pronoun refers to its closest reference. According to that simple convention, which should refer to the staff.

However, things are seldom equal when it comes to pronouns, especially when they are present in a sentence that isn't short or simple. It could be referring to something else—either the boss's displeasure or even to the meeting itself.


In short, it's not clear what which is referring to.

Further, depending on interpretation, the sentence might be grammatical—but it's certainly not appropriately phrased, at least according to conventional style.

-1

"The boss expressed his displeasure about the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday, which had caused the delay of projects approval."

Is the sentence grammatically correct?

Which is a relative pronoun whose antecedent can be assumed to be "the absence of the staff at the meeting yesterday." There is nothing ungrammatical or unusual about this use of which. The attachment of the relative clause is technically ambiguous, but attachment ambiguity is common and acceptable in English grammar.

"the delay of projects approval" is misspelled and slightly grammatically incorrect: it should be something like "the delay of the project's approval."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.