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My eyes widen, and I slowly turn toward the elderly gentleman standing at my side.

In this sentence, before "standing", "who" is skipped why?

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    This is known as whiz deletion: see e.g. this question and this tag
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 15:25
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    Ignore what you read about 'reduced relative clauses' and "whizz-deletion". The expression "standing at my side" is a non-finite (gerund-participial) clause modifying "elderly gentleman". It's a succinct way of saying "the elderly gentleman who stands at my side", but it's not some hybrid form of relative clause.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 16:26
  • @BillJ It depends on which analysis you choose to adopt. Prof. Lawler prefers the "whiz-deletion" analysis; traditional grammar calls these "participial phrases"; Huddleston & Pullum use your terminology.
    – alphabet
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 16:47
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    The evidence speaks for itself; notably that the gerund-participial clause cannot take a relative word (*"the elderly gentleman who standing at my side"), and in any case I don't want to be positing a deleted verb.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 16:59
  • Does this answer your question? passive Vs active or omission of 'which is' Commented May 24, 2023 at 17:57

2 Answers 2

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[1] My eyes widen, and I slowly turn toward the elderly gentleman [standing at my side].

[2] My eyes widen, and I slowly turn toward the elderly gentleman [who stands at my side].

The simple answer to your question is that although both examples are semantically similar, they have quite different grammatical structures: in [2] the nominal ("elderly gentleman") is modified by a relative clause while in [1] by a gerund-participial (-ing) clause.

The construction in [1] may be regarded as more succinct than [2] and thus perhaps generally more favoured.

There is no special 'rule' here, and although terms like 'reduced relative clause' and Whiz-deletion' are heard, and indeed may be mnemonically useful for some, they are actually misnomers. What we have here is simply post-head modification in NP structure by two different types of clause, a gerund-participial clause and a relative clause, not by a relative clause and some kind of 'hybrid' relative.

Edit: Note that the term 'reduced relative clause' comes from transformational generative grammar, which assumes deep structures and surface structures in language. Frameworks that assume no underlying form label non-finite so-called ‘reduced’ relative clauses as participial clauses.

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    '... who stands at my side' sounds odd: dated, or giving a habitual sense. Commented May 25, 2023 at 10:29
  • Which is another reason why the gerund-participial clause is favoured here over the relative clause.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 11:58
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    ' ... who is standing at my side' is the more closely related relative clause. Commented May 25, 2023 at 13:10
  • "The elderly gentleman standing at my side" is not in fact equivalent to "the elderly gentleman who is standing at my side", but to "the elderly gentleman who stands at my side".
    – BillJ
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 13:36
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You are in error. If you had only skipped the relative pronoun,
you would have produced the ungrammatical clause

  • *I slowly turn toward the elderly gentleman is standing at my side

In fact, in producing this sentence, you skipped a relative pronoun and an auxiliary verb is.

That is the effect of the syntactic rule mentioned above in comments, called Whiz-Deletion in the professional literature. It relates relative clauses with initial auxiliary be in their verb phrase (like relative clauses that have passives, progressives, predicate adjectives, or predicate nouns) to bare verb phrases modifying the antecedents of the relative clauses.

This doesn't mean one changes into another; that's silly -- language doesn't work that way (though writing occasionally might). It merely means the constructions are related grammatically, and share the same contexts and meanings, so if you understand one you understand the other; all you have to do is recognize the constructions and follow the rules.

In this case, the rule says that various unmarked verbal predicates can follow a noun, provided there is a grammatical relative clause with the same predicate, but following be and a relative pronoun subject.

The example sentence satisfies those conditions. And you followed the rule, even though you didn't realize you'd left out the auxiliary be, which is an illustration of why examples are more useful. Descriptions can leave stuff out or focus on the wrong things.

(By the way, imprecations to ignore other peoples' terminology are par for the course. Some people take this stuff too seriously. :-)

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  • You presumably would have known all the time, but I've only just discovered that (according to chatgpt, at least) the term "Whiz-deletion" was coined by Chomsky in his 1970 book "Remarks on Nominalization". Though I must admit that at this stage in the AI game, I wouldn't fall off my perch if Chomsky isn't the source (and/or never wrote "Remarks on Nominalization"! :) Commented May 24, 2023 at 17:33
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    No, it was in use long before 1970. Either Haj Ross or Robin Lakoff is credited in the hagiographies I'm familiar with. Commented May 24, 2023 at 18:08
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    @FumbleFingers ChaptGPT is designed to mimic human speech not to provide accurate information. It is extremely well-known and well-documented that ChatGPT confidently presents false information as true. It's worrying when grown-ups start referring to it as a source of information in public arenas! I prefer Ali G for my inaccurate information :) Commented May 24, 2023 at 22:30
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    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore.: It is prone to make things up, sure. But I find it's surprisingly knowledgeable about the innermost workings of the bogglingly-steep-learning-curve of QtCreator - it's already saved me hours of head-scratching on that. And a couple of days ago it held my hand all the way to get my much-loved Logitech K810 illuminated keyboard working under Linux Mint 21. Despite several attempts, I've never got it working since Mint 20 last summer, and that's a real bummer for such a great piece of kit. All thanks to chatgpt (and no thanks to all those online forums I trawled! :) Commented May 24, 2023 at 22:50
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    I don’t like talking in terms of deletion of relative pronoun + be since the OP's example is not in fact equivalent to "the elderly gentleman who is standing at my side", as opposed to "the elderly gentleman who stands at my side".
    – BillJ
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 7:09

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