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Context:

These specialty jobs are integral to the daily well-being of the entire population, which lives in near isolation, what feels like light years away from a hospital, a department store, and the internet.

I understand that which lives in near isolation refers to the entire population, but which part of the sentence does what feels like light years away... refer to? Is it a relative clause, same as which lives in near isolation?

How should I paraphrase this sentence?

-- Thank you

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1 Answer 1

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Unlike which (which has the antecedent "the entire population"), what does not have an external antecedent in that sentence.

Rather, this is a "fused relative" construction: "what feels like light years away from a hospital" functions like a noun phrase consisting of a nominal head followed by a relative clause: something that feels like light years away from a hospital. What is fairly commonly used in fused relative constructions in standard English, even though what is generally not used as a relative pronoun with an external antecedent.

The meaning of the sentence is therefore similar to the following (where just "light years away from a hospital" is used):

These specialty jobs are integral to the daily well-being of the entire population, which lives in near isolation, light years away from a hospital, a department store, and the internet.

Saying "what feels like light years away from a hospital" makes it clear that it isn't literally light years away.

A shorter sentence that would show the same usage would be "The entire population lives what feels like light years away from a hospital."

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  • That's the meaning, but it's still very awkward. It would be much more idiomatic if what feels like were simply replaced with seemingly. Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 6:34
  • Is this fused relative construction commonly used in daily communication? Is it awkward only in this sentence or in general usage as well?
    – Kei
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 7:07
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. Isn't it just "light years" that modifies "away", thus the PP is "light years away from the hospital" functioning as complement of the prep "like" ("x feels [like light years away from the hospital"].), where the PP is PC of "feels"?
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 12:58
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. In, for example, "Alpha Centauris is 4.7 million light years away", we're assuming that the NP "4.7 million light years modifies "away" -- But it is not omissible. To make that work, "4.7m miles" would have to be a complement, not a modifier, of "away". Btw, "like" takes PP complements e.g. "It's just like in the States".
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 18:44

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