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at one time the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, after which the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction.

I understand the sentence can be re-arrange as below:

at one time the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, which the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction after.

Can someone explain to me what does 'which' refers to here? I was told that 'which' cannot be use to refer to the whole clause so can the 'which' used here refers to the preceding clause? Or does it refers to 'the surface?

Thank you.

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  • It's "after" the time at which the surface broke apart. In principle, that key word "time" could be included in the original text: the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, after which time the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction. But if you want to think of it as ...after which impacts..., that would amount to the same thing anyway. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 18:38
  • In non-defining relatives (like the one in your example), the antecedent can be virtually anything: words, phrases, clauses, even whole sentences. In your example, I'd say that he antecedent of "which" is "the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 18:46
  • Think of it as "after R the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction", where R is interpreted as the the breaking apart of the surface ... "
    – BillJ
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 18:51
  • Which refers to the entire first clause: At one time the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts. After [that event] the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction. --> At one time the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, after [which] the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 19:11
  • In 'The surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, after which the station's impulse recorder broke' the antecedent of 'which' is indeterminate. But here, only the clausal antecedent reading makes sense. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 12:54

2 Answers 2

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It means "everything we described in the part of the sentence preceding the word after."

As in:

At one time the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, after which [i.e. after the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts] the fragments rejoined through mutual gravitational attraction.

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  • The explanation being? In 'the surface broke apart as a result of repeated impacts, after which the station's impulse recorder broke' the antecedent of 'which' is indeterminate. Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 12:52
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Whatever event is being referenced that precedes "after which". "Which" is used to indicate a distinction being made between two or more things being discussed. The first thing would be the one "which" came before the next thing (the thing that comes "after")

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