People have extracted so much underground water that it affects the Earth's balance.

Most relative clauses start with a relative pronoun, such as "that." What is the subject in the relative clause above? Is it "that" or "it?"

  • 5
    There's no relative clause in that sentence. There's a content clause licensed by so.
    – DW256
    Jul 7 at 8:05
  • 1
    So not all clauses start with "that " is consider relative clause?
    – Muuu Mu
    Jul 7 at 8:09
  • 2
    @MuuuMu Certainly not! :) that is a marker that tells you that the following clause is a subordinate, declarative one. I occurs often after verbs like like, think, say, recommend, know etc. In the sentence above the clause that it affects the Earth's balance is a complement of the adverb so. It tells us how much so much really was. Jul 7 at 8:50
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    The (understood) referent of 'semi-referential' 'it' is 'the relocation, in extraction processes, of a [very considerable] mass of water'. // This 'that' is the complementiser (French 'qui/que'), not the pronoun/determiner (French 'ça/cet ...'), and is never a subject. Jul 7 at 9:23
  • 2
    The "that" is a subordinator functioning as a marker of subordination.
    – BillJ
    Jul 7 at 9:32

3 Answers 3


It's not a relative clause, even if it does start with that. There are better ways to identify relatives.

The clause

  • that it affects the Earth's balance

is a complement clause that's part of the so Adj/such NP that S construction.

This construction has two parts

  1. Either so before adjectives, or such before noun phrases:
    So long, so firm, so fully-packed, so free and easy on the draw
    Such a nice dog, such a lovely day, such an awful smell

  2. Followed by a tensed that-clause complement to the entire of Part 1,
    expressing the result of the degree of the adjective or noun properties discussed:
    This hotdog is so long (that) it flops out the end of the bun.
    This is such a long hotdog (that) it flops out the end of the bun.
    She drank so much water (that) she had to run for the bathroom.

Oh, and the subject of that it affects the Earth's balance is it, a non-relative pronoun that's coreferential with the clause People have extracted so much underground water.

  • 2
    Also so determiner and so adverb, of course. And even so verb/VP: "He so wanted to be loved by his dad that he'd spent his life emulating his father's version of success." Jul 8 at 20:47
  • Adverbs are functionally identical to adjectives in most constructions. What's an example of so + Det? Jul 8 at 22:38
  • 2
    Theoretically so few, so many, so little and perhaps so much. Paucal or multal quantifiers, essentially. Jul 8 at 22:51
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    Thanks. That's why "adverb" is such a useless term; of course they were marked in Latin, so ... Jul 9 at 15:02

People have extracted so much underground water [that it affects the Earth's balance].

As DW256 says, the bracketed element is not a relative clause but a declarative content clause. Its function is that of 'indirect complement' in clause structure, where it has a resultative meaning. Its subject is "it"

It's called indirect because although it follows the head noun, it is not the head noun that licenses it but the "so" that modifies "much".


There could be two scenarios. Make it a sentence with a relative clause (like the picture) or omit "that" make two independent clauses.

image of sentence structure

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