Are sentences like these

  1. The man got beaten up who James saw take the train yesterday.
  2. The potato was eaten that Hayley said she wanted.

with these meanings

  1. The man who James saw take the train yesterday got beaten up.
  2. The potato that Hayley said she wanted was eaten.

acceptable in any varieties of English?

What's the name of this syntactic phenomenon, and in which varieties of English is it acceptable and in which unacceptable?

  • 4
    Does this answer your question? Position of a relative clause before/after a verb Extraposition from NP. Fairly common in mainstream English for heavy relative clauses. Feb 12, 2023 at 15:59
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    I think the answer is "all varieties of English as long as they are not being corrected by a pedantic English teacher." Feb 12, 2023 at 16:08
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    So we're talking about postposed relative clauses. Providing it's clear what the antecedent is, in principle such relatives are possible.
    – BillJ
    Feb 12, 2023 at 16:33
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    'A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. - It is the low shores that are flat and vanish out to sea. - the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness had a haze upon them.
    – Greybeard
    Feb 12, 2023 at 18:05
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    I don’t think the duplicate addresses your question. The reason your “distant” relative clauses are not acceptable here is that you’re trying to use them with the passive voice. Compare the active Someone ate the potato that Hayley said she wanted with the passive ? *The potato was eaten [by someone] that Haley said she wanted. If you want to use the passive voice, keep your relatives close: The potato that Hayley said she wanted was eaten [by someone]. Feb 12, 2023 at 18:38

2 Answers 2


This is not a random postposed clause. It is, like all syntax, rule-governed.
The rule in this case is called "Extraposition from N(oun) P(hrase)" in the trade.
It applies to more than relative clauses; the clause has to come from an NP.
Here's what it says on page 25 of this preliminary list of English syntactic rules:


(a) For relative clauses (only restrictives can participate):
A sergeant [(that) I had never met] lurched in.

A sergeant lurched in [(that) I had never met].

(b) For noun complements:
The claim [that our salaries should be tripled] was discussed.

The claim was discussed [that our salaries should be tripled].

  • 1
    I wonder why The claim was discussed that our salaries should be tripled seems passable, while The potato was eaten that Hayley said she wanted does not. Feb 15, 2023 at 3:21
  • @Tinfoil Hat Extraposition from NP is largely a higher register device, and Hayley eating her potato (or not) doesn't really fit. John's second example sounds more felicitous than his first to my ears. Jan 20 at 12:21

In which Englishes are "distant" relative clauses acceptable?


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