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  1. #1
    daolananh is offline Newbie
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    Question "that" in relative clauses

    I'm still not sure about the use of "that" in relative clauses. Can u help me? ^_^
    In what cases can we use that to replace which, who, whom and in what cases should we use that instead of them?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    It seems that in informal speech "that" can be used to replace any "who" or "which", which is why I suggest learners use it exclusively(in informal speech/writing), or remove it completely where they can so they won't make a mistake.

    e.g. "There is a person who I think you should see."
    "There is a person that I think you should see."
    "There is a person I think you should see."

    "This is a problem which will demand our attention."
    "This is a problem that will demand our attention."
    (alternatives include: This is a problem, and will demand our attention/ This problem will demand our attention)

    "That" replaces "them" when we are dealing with the singular and not the plural.

    e.g. "There are many problems, but I don't have time to talk about them right now.

    "There is one problem, but I don't want to talk about that right now."

    "There is a problem over there, could you go see to that?"
    "There are a few problems, would you mind seeing to them?"

    At least, that's the question I think you are asking.

  3. #3
    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    Old-timers, like me, were taught that non-restrictive relative clauses should be introduced by the relative pronoun which and enclosed by commas. Restrictive relative clauses should be introduced with that and be free of commas. Relative clauses that pertain to people should be introduced with who and have commas if they are non-restrictive.

    A restrictive relative clause is one whose presence is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    The river that flooded last year has had its banks built up. This is a restrictive relative clause because the flooding of the river was the reason for the build-up of its banks.

    The river, which flooded last year, is two blocks away. This sentence is about the location of the river. The fact that it flooded last year is extra information that is not part of the meaning of the sentence and is therefore non-restrictive.

    These are not hard and fast rules of English grammar and usage. Accomplished (and well-paid) writers use that and which almost interchangeably. Who am I to argue with them?

    If you have an "old school" teacher who is fussy about which relative pronoun to use, then follow the rules I've shown you and you won't go wrong.

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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    mykwyner> I'll admit right out, that's news to me. I see there's always something new to learn about language. I do note the conspicuous absence of a "who" example. Does this division work with "who"?
    Last edited by weiming; 31-Aug-2007 at 02:58.

  5. #5
    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    Yes, only as far as the use of the commas to set the non-restrictive who clause off from the rest of the sentence.

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    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    Here's how restrictive and non restrictive who clauses work.

    1. The manager, who is at lunch now, will make the decision. [non-restrictive]

    2. The manager who is at lunch now will make the decision. [restrictive]

    In sentence 1, the meaning is that there is a manager who will make the decision and, by the way, he is at lunch now.

    In sentence 2, the meaning is that whichever manager happens to be at lunch now will have to make the decision.

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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    Excellent. I never noted the distinction before but I can see and appreciate it.

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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    weiming, please be reminded, if you are not a teacher, you need to state that clearly in each of your posts.

  9. #9
    mykwyner is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    Quote Originally Posted by weiming View Post
    Casiopea,

    I feel that I should only be required to do so where I make correction or give an authoritative opinion on some language point. I also suggest that if I am required to do so, everyone (and that's everyone) should be held to the identical standard.

    I agree.

  10. #10
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Default Re: "that" in relative clauses

    This is not pointed at Mykwyner in the least, but his response is reflective of all that is wrong with the teaching on relative pronouns. Why has this innaccurate description gone on so long and how, if it was so inaccurate, how have native speakers learned how to use relative pronouns?

    Like all prescriptions, and prescriptions these are, they have no effect on the real rules we all have governing our language use. In other words prescriptive "rules", not being real rules of the English language, go unheeded when we use English naturally.


    Quote Originally Posted by mykwyner View Post
    If you have an "old school" teacher who is fussy about which relative pronoun to use, then follow the rules I've shown you and you won't go wrong.
    Again, native speakers don't go wrong because they never unconsciously "listened" to these, shall we say, guidelines, that never went far enough. I said, in another thread, that these rules were designed to confuse students and that the teachers never really understood them themselves.

    Quote Originally Posted by mykwyner View Post
    Old-timers, like me, were taught that non-restrictive relative clauses should be introduced by the relative pronoun which and enclosed by commas. Restrictive relative clauses should be introduced with that and be free of commas.

    A restrictive relative clause is one whose presence is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
    Of course this is true, as far as it goes, but the teachers always failed to describe just when a clause became non-restrictive. To ESLs, this is monumentally confusing.

    Relative clauses [really just sentence adjectives] are used to describe a particular noun. At some point, the noun is sufficiently described that any further description becomes nonrestrictive.

    WHAT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER IS THAT IT'S THE SPEAKER'S CHOICE AS TO WHAT RELATIVE PRONOUN TO USE UNTIL THE DESCRIPTION IS SUFFICIENT TO MAKE IT IMPERATIVE THAT WE SHIFT TO A NONRESTRICTIVE RELATIVE PRONOUN.

    So when Mykwyner [or anyone else for that matter] gives some example sentences, he [she] fails to make note [IMPORTANT, SO LISTEN CAREFULLY] that these are being viewed from his/her perspective and he/she has made the decision as to whether the listener needs to be informed just who/what the noun is, ie. does the listener(s) know which person/thing is being discussed.


    Quote Originally Posted by mykwyner View Post
    The river that flooded last year has had its banks built up. This is a restrictive relative clause because the flooding of the river was the reason for the build-up of its banks.
    This is a restrictive relative clause [RRC] but not for the reason given, ie. it isn't a RRC "because the flooding of the river was the reason for the build-up of its banks". It is a RRC because of its syntactic and grammatical properties.

    In writing, we see this in the abscence of commas. In speech, we know its a RRC from the smooth intonation, ie. there is no pause.

    The river which flooded last year has had its banks built up.

    This also a RRC. The only difference is that the speaker chose to use 'which', which is perfectly within the rules of English grammar.

    Again, in writing, we see this in the abscence of commas. In speech, we know it's a RRC from the smooth intonation, ie. there is no pause.


    Quote Originally Posted by mykwyner View Post
    The river, which flooded last year, is two blocks away. This sentence is about the location of the river. The fact that it flooded last year is extra information that is not part of the meaning of the sentence and is therefore non-restrictive.
    This is a non-restrictive relative clause [NRRC], but again, not for the reason given, that "This sentence is about the location of the river".

    It's a NRRC because of its syntactical and grammatical properties. The speaker chooses a NRRC not to conform to some nebulous rules [how could young children ever possibly know these rules and yet they use them beautifully] but because the SPEAKER HAS DETERMINED THAT THE LISTENERS KNOW THE NOUN BEING DISCUSSED [RIVER] IS SUFFICIENTLY KNOWN TO ALL.

    We can make the same sentence a RRC by removing the commas and keeping 'which'.

    The river which flooded last year is two blocks away.

    But when the noun being described has been sufficiently described, ENLs have no choice [generally] but to change to a NNRC.

    *The Pentagon that is in Washinton, DC, houses the military ... . * [* denotes ungrammatical]

    The Pentagon, which is in ..., houses ... .

    This applies both to people and things.

    *Mykwyner that wrote a reply in this thread lives in NC.*

    Mykwyner, who wrote a reply in this thread, lives in NC.


    Quote Originally Posted by mykwyner View Post
    These are not hard and fast rules of English grammar and usage. Accomplished (and well-paid) writers use that and which almost interchangeably. Who am I to argue with them?
    Of course they're not hard and fast rules. They are not rules at all. They are poorly thought out prescriptions. [Mykwyner is not to blame for this for often we are all held hostage to what we've been taught]

    No ENLs, not even "[A]ccomplished (and well-paid) writers use that and which almost interchangeably". All ENLs use them according to the clearly defined rules we have within our mental grammars.



    Quote Originally Posted by mykwyner View Post
    Relative clauses that pertain to people should be introduced with who and have commas if they are non-restrictive.
    I'm afraid the first part is just another errant prescription. There is nothing grammatically, in English, nothing at all, that compels ENLs to only use 'who', eschewing 'that' for "[R]elative clauses that pertain to people".

    There are other considerations, some social, that cause ENLs to use 'who' more than 'that', but that doesn't mean that 'that' can't be used as a relative pronoun to describe people. The prescriptivists have confounded social considerations we make in language and held them up as grammmatical rules. There is no denying, of course, that we use structure and vocabulary choices in some language circumstances to effect certain social registers.

    Again, once the situation has sufficiently described the noun/person/people in question, ENLs switch to 'who' and add commas in writing. In speech, these 'commas' are noted by intonational shifts.

    GW Bush [pause] who is the President [pause] commuted Scooter's sentence.
    Last edited by riverkid; 03-Sep-2007 at 16:46.

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