1. ## attributive clause

Dear Teachers, we know that an attributive clause usually modify the word right before it. For example,

He is a kind man who is always ready to help others.

The clause "who is always ready to help others" modify "man" which comes right before the clause. I can understand this kind of attributive clauses. My question is, can attributive clauses also modify a whole sentense before it instead of just a word? For example, is it OK to say:

He stole the book, which is a bad thing.

I am not saying that the book is a bad thing. I want to say that his stealing of the book is a bad thing. Is it OK? This kind of expression is quite rare, but I did see it somewhere several times. :wink:

2. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by Joe
Dear Teachers, we know that an attributive clause usually modify the word right before it. For example,

He is a kind man who is always ready to help others.

The clause "who is always ready to help others" modify "man" which comes right before the clause. I can understand this kind of attributive clauses. My question is, can attributive clauses also modify a whole sentense before it instead of just a word? For example, is it OK to say:

He stole the book, which is a bad thing.

I am not saying that the book is a bad thing. I want to say that his stealing of the book is a bad thing. Is it OK? This kind of expression is quite rare, but I did see it somewhere several times. :wink:
Here's an ambiguous sentence for you:

He stole the book called Swear Words, which is a bad thing.

1) The book called Swear Words is a bad thing.
2) Stealing a book is a bad thing to do.

All the best,

3. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by Joe
Dear Teachers, we know that an attributive clause usually modify the word right before it. For example,

He is a kind man who is always ready to help others.

The clause "who is always ready to help others" modify "man" which comes right before the clause. I can understand this kind of attributive clauses. My question is, can attributive clauses also modify a whole sentense before it instead of just a word? For example, is it OK to say:

He stole the book, which is a bad thing.

I am not saying that the book is a bad thing. I want to say that his stealing of the book is a bad thing. Is it OK? This kind of expression is quite rare, but I did see it somewhere several times. :wink:
I think that your sentence would be understandable as written, but Cas has given you another sentence that would be unclear in that format. One way around the problem would be the use of the em dash "--" instead of the comma. This transforms the clause to an afterthought. It would be clearer, then, as a comment on the entire thought. :wink:

4. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Originally Posted by Joe
Dear Teachers, we know that an attributive clause usually modify the word right before it. For example,

He is a kind man who is always ready to help others.

The clause "who is always ready to help others" modify "man" which comes right before the clause. I can understand this kind of attributive clauses. My question is, can attributive clauses also modify a whole sentense before it instead of just a word? For example, is it OK to say:

He stole the book, which is a bad thing.

I am not saying that the book is a bad thing. I want to say that his stealing of the book is a bad thing. Is it OK? This kind of expression is quite rare, but I did see it somewhere several times. :wink:
Here's an ambiguous sentence for you:

He stole the book called Swear Words, which is a bad thing.

1) The book called Swear Words is a bad thing.
2) Stealing a book is a bad thing to do.

All the best,
You raise an interesting point about the antecedent of pronouns in relative clauses. This becomes a real issue when the antecendent can be singular or plural because it affects the clausal verb. We had a raging discussion at about.com about this subject.

In my view, there are often two or more possible antecedents for the pronoun in relative clauses. One must use logic/meaning to determine the proper antecedent. When this is not possible, i.e. two antecedents are equally logical, I choose the closest logical noun. Others expressed the view that the object of a preposition cannot be the antecedent. That view is indefensisble, IMO, but I'd like your opinion. Here is one sentence:

The teacher quoted from a book of words that is/are used in teaching.

If the book is used in teaching, the clausal verb should be singular.
If the words are used in teaching, the clausal verb should be plural.

Context will more than likely differentiate the two. Nevertheless, as it is written and devoid of context, which is the correct verb?

5. Thanks, Cas and Mike. Mike, I cannot find the thread you mentioned on about.com. Could you please give me a link or something? :wink:

6. Originally Posted by Joe
Thanks, Cas and Mike. Mike, I cannot find the thread you mentioned on about.com. Could you please give me a link or something? :wink:
I just went through the list and I cannot remember the title. Because of the personalities on that forum, it turned into a useless argument anyway.

7. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by MikeNewYork

The teacher quoted from a book of words that is/are used in teaching.
Traditionally, the head of the phrase (i.e. 'a book'), not its object (i.e. of words), is directly modified by the RC. The head is singular, so the clausal verb should also be singular. That's the traditonal gist.

In this day and age though, speakers do in fact utter structures like,
a book of words that are used in teaching, which tells us the speaker views the RC as inside the object phrase,

a book of [words [that are...]]

I can understand it, but the structure is odd to me because as a native speaker I expect (i.e. native intuition) the RC to modify the head of the phrase, and not what's inside the phrase.

If, say, I wanted to get the meaning 'a book of words that are', I would have to separate the object from its head (i.e. break up the integrity of the possessive phrase) by a) restating the object and b) redefining it,

a book of words in which the words (of that book) are used in teaching.

Adding a comma doesn't work for me, either,

a book of words, that are used in teaching.

It sounds the same to me with or without the comma: ungrammatical. 'a book' of words 'is used in teaching'.

All the best,

8. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Originally Posted by MikeNewYork

The teacher quoted from a book of words that is/are used in teaching.
Traditionally, the head of the phrase (i.e. 'a book'), not its object (i.e. of words), is directly modified by the RC. The head is singular, so the clausal verb should also be singular. That's the traditonal gist.

In this day and age though, speakers do in fact utter structures like,
a book of words that are used in teaching, which tells us the speaker views the RC as inside the object phrase,

a book of [words [that are...]]

I can understand it, but the structure is odd to me because as a native speaker I expect (i.e. native intuition) the RC to modify the head of the phrase, and not what's inside the phrase.

If, say, I wanted to get the meaning 'a book of words that are', I would have to separate the object from its head (i.e. break up the integrity of the possessive phrase) by a) restating the object and b) redefining it,

a book of words in which the words (of that book) are used in teaching.

Adding a comma doesn't work for me, either,

a book of words, that are used in teaching.

It sounds the same to me with or without the comma: ungrammatical. 'a book' of words 'is used in teaching'.

All the best,
I must have missed that "rule" about the head word. In my understanding, there is no problem with having a relative clause modify a noun that is the object of a preposition. It is an interesting area of English.

In many cases there is no alternative:

I addressed a roomful of professors who were eating lunch.
I gave the student a sampling of the books that were on the shelf.
I sorted through a box of tools that were used for grinding.

9. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by MikeNewYork
In my understanding, there is no problem with having a relative clause modify a noun that is the object of a preposition.

I addressed a roomful of professors who were eating lunch.
I gave the student a sampling of the books that were on the shelf.
I sorted through a box of tools that were used for grinding.
The first two work for me, also, but the third does not. When I get to 'that are' my brain stops to redefine the subject of 'are'.

Great examples! I've noticed something of interest. Tell me what you think: take a closer look at the "nouns",

roomful (derived: room that is filled )
sampling (derived: participle; verbal in nature)

If the head (i.e. sampling, roomful) is verbal in nature (i.e. derived from a verb), then of course there wouldn't be any argument at all since the relative pronoun would not be able to modify a verbal head,

I addressed a roomful of professors that was huge. :(
I gave the student a sampling of the books that was long. :(

That relative pronouns modify nominals, specifically nominals in nature, might be just what has speakers deeming the two examples above as semantically awkward.

If, however, the head is nominal in nature (i.e. box, book), then the relative pronoun would modify the closest nominal,

a box of tools that was used by my Dad. :D

[i]Note, the closest nominal, given the non-linear structure of language, will be the head of the phrase (i.e. box, book); That's possibly the reason behind the awkwardness of,

a box of tools that were used by my Dad. :(
a book of words that were used for teaching. :(

Given, the other meanings,

a box of tools that were used by my Dad. :(
a book of words that were used for teaching. :(

I'd speculate with some weight that the speaker views the RC modification as an outcropping of the embedded noun phrase 'words'. That is, the structure is novel.

Speakers know intuitively that RCs modify nominals; that RCs modify true nominals, and not verbals (i.e. roomful, sampling); that a relative pronoun modifies the closest nominal, and that given the non-linear structure of language, the closest nominal within proximity to the relative pronoun is the nominal that heads the phrase (i.e. box, book). That's all intuitive. Structure such as a box of tools that were and a book of words that were deviate from the pattern, and hence have the reader/listener taking a double-take, sort to speak, in order to redefine the subject of the clausal verb. The structure is grammatical in terms of syntax, but in terms of semantics, one has to work out (i.e. what you had refer to in a previous post as logic) the meaning it expresses. That's a fairly big red flag. To me (and possibly others, given the heated debate you referred to) it seems a little odd or rather out of place that the speaker has to work out the meaning. I say that because Language change has always moved in the direction of creating a more efficient system. This change, in my opinion, isn't efficient, which brings to light the question, Will it survive in the system? We can describe it (i.e. it's an embedded node) and as language users if we hear it used a great deal, we too will pick it up (i.e. comprehend it), but, and here's the point, what about the time and energy it takes to differentiate which nominal within the phrase is the antecedent? Language is non-linear; there's a reason for that; adding this new change into the language adds a linear aspect. Hmm. Kewl. How will that alter the non-linear structure of the language (i.e. the way we think)? Or, if linear is there already, what does that say about how we acquire language?

You always provide the most appetizing food for thought! :D Very interesting examples, Mike! Thank you. :D

All the best,

10. ## Re: attributive clause

Originally Posted by Casiopea
Originally Posted by MikeNewYork
In my understanding, there is no problem with having a relative clause modify a noun that is the object of a preposition.

I addressed a roomful of professors who were eating lunch.
I gave the student a sampling of the books that were on the shelf.
I sorted through a box of tools that were used for grinding.
The first two work for me, also, but the third does not. When I get to 'that are' my brain stops to redefine the subject of 'are'.

Great examples! I've noticed something of interest. Tell me what you think: take a closer look at the "nouns",

roomful (derived: room that is filled )
sampling (derived: participle; verbal in nature)

If the head (i.e. sampling, roomful) is verbal in nature (i.e. derived from a verb), then of course there wouldn't be any argument at all since the relative pronoun would not be able to modify a verbal head,

I addressed a roomful of professors that was huge. :(
I gave the student a sampling of the books that was long. :(

That relative pronouns modify nominals, specifically nominals in nature, might be just what has speakers deeming the two examples above as semantically awkward.

If, however, the head is nominal in nature (i.e. box, book), then the relative pronoun would modify the closest nominal,

a box of tools that was used by my Dad. :D

[i]Note, the closest nominal, given the non-linear structure of language, will be the head of the phrase (i.e. box, book); That's possibly the reason behind the awkwardness of,

a box of tools that were used by my Dad. :(
a book of words that were used for teaching. :(

Given, the other meanings,

a box of tools that were used by my Dad. :(
a book of words that were used for teaching. :(

I'd speculate with some weight that the speaker views the RC modification as an outcropping of the embedded noun phrase 'words'. That is, the structure is novel.

Speakers know intuitively that RCs modify nominals; that RCs modify true nominals, and not verbals (i.e. roomful, sampling); that a relative pronoun modifies the closest nominal, and that given the non-linear structure of language, the closest nominal within proximity to the relative pronoun is the nominal that heads the phrase (i.e. box, book). That's all intuitive. Structure such as a box of tools that were and a book of words that were deviate from the pattern, and hence have the reader/listener taking a double-take, sort to speak, in order to redefine the subject of the clausal verb. The structure is grammatical in terms of syntax, but in terms of semantics, one has to work out (i.e. what you had refer to in a previous post as logic) the meaning it expresses. That's a fairly big red flag. To me (and possibly others, given the heated debate you referred to) it seems a little odd or rather out of place that the speaker has to work out the meaning. I say that because Language change has always moved in the direction of creating a more efficient system. This change, in my opinion, isn't efficient, which brings to light the question, Will it survive in the system? We can describe it (i.e. it's an embedded node) and as language users if we hear it used a great deal, we too will pick it up (i.e. comprehend it), but, and here's the point, what about the time and energy it takes to differentiate which nominal within the phrase is the antecedent? Language is non-linear; there's a reason for that; adding this new change into the language adds a linear aspect. Hmm. Kewl. How will that alter the non-linear structure of the language (i.e. the way we think)? Or, if linear is there already, what does that say about how we acquire language?

You always provide the most appetizing food for thought! :D Very interesting examples, Mike! Thank you. :D

All the best,
And your analysis is, as usual, scholarly and logical. I will continue to think about the issue. :wink:

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