(1) Who's the big guy [ ___ eating with your brother]?

Here, the subject of the bracketed non-finite clause is omitted, as shown in the blank, and is retrievable from the main clause. I'd like to know exactly what is the omitted subject of the non-finite clause.

Is it the big guy or big guy or just guy?

On the one hand, the NP (rather than the nominal or noun) generally functions as the subject as follows:

The big guy is eating with your brother.

*Big guy is eating with your brother.

*Guy is eating with your brother.

Therefore, the omitted subject seems to be the big guy.

On the other hand, the non-finite clause doesn't seem to be modifying the entire NP the big guy. It seems to be modifying either big guy or guy. So the parsing of the NP is either:

the [big guy [ ___ eating with your brother]]


the [big [guy [ ___ eating with your brother]]]

but not:

[the big guy [ ___ eating with your brother]]

Does this mean that the omitted subject is not the big guy but either big guy or simply guy? If so, can the subject of a non-finite clause be in the form of a nominal or noun (as opposed to an NP)?

If the omitted subject is the big guy, how do you prove that the above parsing doesn't have anything to do with identifying the omitted subject?


2 Answers 2


Both big and eating with your brother modify guy, the head of the NP. This is a coordination of pre- and post-head modifiers.

We can't have

* Who's big guy?

anymore than we can have

* Who's guy eating with your brother?

Thus the the would appear twice without the coordination.

Who's the big guy, the guy eating with your brother?

Sometimes it's not possible to linearly cut up sentences in order to understand the relation of one part to the others.

More importantly, the subject in this example is not "omitted" as there is no way to put it into the sentence even if we wanted to, gerund-participials in modifier function in NPs cannot contain an overt subject. Were we to extract it and re-write we might come up with something like:

the guy who eats with your brother


the guy who is eating with your brother

  • What do you mean the subject is not 'omitted'? Are you suggesting there is no understood subject? Just because a non-finite clause cannot have an overt subject doesn't mean there's no understood subject of the clause.
    – JK2
    Apr 4, 2020 at 6:41
  • For example, in Kim decided to leave, to leave can't have an overt subject (*Kim decided you to leave), but that doesn't mean that to leave doesn't have an understood subject. It's understood subject is Kim.
    – JK2
    Apr 4, 2020 at 6:45
  • What I mean is that non-finite clauses are sometimes allowed to either have a subject or leave it out, as in (Him) shooting the moon is unlikely. In the cases where a subject is allowed, but omitted, it's pertinent to ask what form that subject may take. What we have here are a noun and two modifiers delimiting a referent, the set of one which the sets of big guys and guys eating with your brother overlap to create.
    – DW256
    Apr 4, 2020 at 7:54

(1) Who's the big guy [ ___ eating with your brother]?

eating with your brother is a reduced relative clause. The sentence that includes the implied subject is

“Who's the big guy that/who is eating with your brother.

with your brother” = {preposition + NP}, i.e. a prepositional modifier.

  • First, 'that' is not the subject but the subordinator of the relative clause, so in the 'that'-relative, you still have the same missing subject as the blank in (1). Second, in the 'who'-relative, 'who' refers to the same thing as the blank in (1) does. So, it's back to square one.
    – JK2
    Apr 5, 2020 at 2:26
  • "The big guy that/who is eating with your brother." is a noun clause composed of "the big guy" plus a descriptive (adjectival) clause.The descriptive clause relates/refers to "guy" in much the same way that "the big" does. As, in the sentence, we are dealing with the verb "to be" in the it is not surprising that the subject and complement are exchangeable.
    – Greybeard
    Apr 5, 2020 at 7:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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