11. Relative clauses (i)

To accompany Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K Pullum, A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar, pages 183–187.

Today’s content

As a mere introduction to relative clauses, today’s slideshow is short. However, it’s rather dense and you’re going to have to concentrate.

Next week, we complete our survey of relative clauses. If you can digest today’s introduction, then next week’s slideshow shouldn’t be hard.

Relative clause terminology

Here (underlined) is a typical example of a relative clause within a sentence: ● “You can keep the book which I lent you.”

Some terminology for analysing this sentence: ● “which I lent you”: relative clause (modifying “book”) ● “book which I lent you”: head nominal ● “which”: relative pronoun ● “book”: antecedent of “which” ● “book” and “which”: These two are anaphorically related to each other“Which” is a pronoun referring back to “book”; it is therefore an anaphor for “book”. The relationship between the two is anaphora; the adjective from this is anaphoric, and of course the adverb is anaphorically. It’s this anaphoric relation that gives the “relative clause” its name. (Be careful: Even within linguistics, the exact meaning of “anaphor” – with those of “anaphora”, “anaphoric” and “anaphorically” – varies somewhat.).

Relative versus content clauses

● “You can ignore the complaint that she made last week.” contains a relative clause (underlined).

Remove “that” from this relative clause, and see if the result works as a sentence: ● ∗“She made last week.”

No, it’s ungrammatical. Something is missing. ● “She made ______ last week.” Let’s call this R. R is anaphorically related to “complaint”.

By contrast, consider: ● “You can ignore the complaint that she broke a neighbour’s window last week.” Remove “that” from the subordinate clause, and we get: ● “She broke a neighbour’s window last week.” This is fine as it is: there is no R; as part of the longer sentence, it’s not a relative clause but instead a content clause.

“Wh” and non-“wh” relative clauses

If a relative clause contains a relative pronoun, the relative pronoun provides an anaphoric link to its antecedent. The anaphoric link is necessary for a relative clause. However, the link doesn’t require a relative pronoun.

There are: “wh” relative clauses (“The bag which he put there was stolen.”) ● non-“wh” relative clauses “that” relative clauses (“The bag that he put  ______  there was stolen.”) bare relative clauses (“The bag he put  ______  there was stolen.”)

In each of these three examples, there’s an anaphoric relation with the antecedent “bag”. In the first, it’s from the relative pronoun “which”; in the second and third, it’s not from any word that’s said or written. But in all three, “he put R there” is understood.

Each of the three has a relativized element. In the first, it’s overt (“which”); in the second and third, it’s covertThere’s no audible (or legible) sign. (We could write this “∅”.).

(“Why so complicated? ‘Which’ and ‘that’ are just two words for the same thing.No they are not. Yes, common sense may suggest that in “What’s the event which/that begins/starts the movie?”, which can be swapped with that as simply as begin can be swapped with start. What’s the reason for treating them so differently? SIEG doesn’t get into this, but it’s explained in CGEL, pages 1056–1057. (The explanation is printed on a blue background, which – as explained on page xiii – means that it’s not intended for the casual reader.))

The relativized element

The relativized element can have any of several functions within the relative clause:

“wh” relative “that” relative bare relative
subject “a computer [which cost too much]” “a computer [that ______ cost too much]”
object “a book [which he lost]” “a book [that he lost ______]” “a book [he lost ______]”
subjective predicative complement “the empire [which Muscovy became]” “the empire [that Muscovy became ______]” “the empire [Muscovy became ______]”
preposition complement “the pen [which he wrote with]” “the pen [that he wrote with ______]” “the pen [he wrote with ______]”
adjunct of time “the day [when I arrived]” “the day [that I arrived ______]” “the day [I arrived ______]”
of location “somewhere [where we can talk]” “somewhere [that we can talk ______]” “somewhere [we can talk ______]”
of reason “the reason [why she failed]” “the reason [that she failed ______]” “the reason [she failed ______]”

(moreCGEL (page 1045) also lists adjuncts of goal, path and manner; and suggests that there are others too.)

Relativized adjunct of location

There’s an odd twist to what’s suggested in one of the cells in the previous table.

If what’s relativized is an adjunct of location, the acceptability of a that clause or a bare clause depends on the head noun.

“wh” relative “that” relative bare relative
head noun obviously indicates location “the place [where she works]” “the place [that she works ______]” “the place [she works ______]”
head noun does not obviously indicate location “the counter [where I bought the eggs]” ∗“the counter [that I bought the eggs ______]” ∗“the counter [I bought the eggs ______]”

(There can also be complementsAs an example, consider a relative clause such as “It’s in the box [where you put it]”: Here, a preposition phrase of place is a complement of put. of location/goal, and perhaps other kinds of complements too.)

R element within an embedded content clause

Compare: 1. “the suit [that he wore ______]” 2. “the suit [that he claims {he wore ______}]”

The first is straightforward. In the second, “he wore” is a content clause. Still, it has an R element.

It’s as if “he claims” (or “I think” or “it seems” or whatever) were a constituentConstituent means “syntactic unit”: NP, AdvP, N, Adv, etc. The term isn’t in the glossary of SIEG, but see page 64., not affecting the syntax around it.

However, there can be an effect: You can see itLook at the sentences as they’re presented in the table, and satisfy yourself that no mistake has been made. Now try reading out each one, minus “he claims”. Thus subject × “wh” relative becomes “a computer which cost too much”. This is grammatical, but one among the other eight is not. in just one of the nine NP examples in the table below:

“wh” relative “that” relative bare relative
subject “a computer [which he claims {cost too much}]” “a computer [that he claims {______ cost too much}]” “a computer [he claims {______ cost too much}]”
object “a book [which he claims {he lost}]” “a book [that he claims {he lost ______}]” “a book [he claims {he lost ______}]”
preposition complement “the pen [which he claims {he wrote with}]” “the pen [that he claims {he wrote with ______}]” “the pen [he claims {he wrote with ______}]”

Relativized element and relative phrase

In a “wh” relative clause, the relativized element (in red) may be only part of a relative phrase (underlined):
1. “the people [with whom she performed]” 2. “the woman [whose photograph appeared]” 3. “the lake [the level of which has fallen]”

The relative phrase comes first in the relative clause, but does not have an anaphoric relation to the antecedent. Instead, only the relativized element has this relation.

Two of the three examples above can be rearranged: 1′. “the people [who she performed with]” 3′. “the lake [of which the level has fallen]” 3″. “the lake [whose level has fallen]”

The fronted preposition in (1) is strandedSee SIEG pages 137–139 on preposition stranding. in (1′). As for (2), SIEG saysSIEG, page 187.: “whose requires that we front the whole of the NP in which it is determiner”.

And now. . . .


Once you have digested both this slideshow and Huddleston and Pullum’s textbook down to page 187, you should be able to do exercises 1–3 on page 193.