11. Relative clauses (ii)

To accompany Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K Pullum, A Student’s Introduction to English Grammar, pages 187–192.

Today’s content

Today we look at supplementary relative clauses (which we haven’t seen yet), and see how they’re different from integrated relative clauses (the subject of last week’s slideshow).

You’ll learn about fused relatives and more; and, if you’re attentive, you’ll learn something fascinating (and perhaps even useful) about that old-fashioned word form “whom”.

Last week’s slideshow might have been rather heavy going; this week’s will be easier.

Integrated and supplementary relatives (i): Introduction 1

According to both SIEG and mainstream thinking (though not everybodyMark Liberman denies that a simple difference exists: see his Language Log post “ ‘Often more [difficulty] than in this chosen pair’ ” (linked to from the last slide). That prompted me to try classifying each of the relative clauses within one novel (Nabokov’s Pnin): I found that I had great trouble with many examples. ), we can classify any relative clause into one or other of two classes. SIEG calls these integrated and supplementary relative clauses. (Every relative clause we’ve seen so far has been integrated.)

Let’s compare the two kinds: 1. Integrated: “The law school where Barack Obama taught has good career prospects.” 2. Supplementary: “Harvard University, which dates from 1636, is hard to enter.”

A major semantic difference is of course that: ● In (1), the relative clause“where Barack Obama taught” identifies the law schoolThere are many law schools. Which one? Obama only taught in one law school (at the University of Chicago).. ● In (2), the relative clause“which dates from 1636” does not identify anythingThere is only one Harvard University.; it’s just an aside“An aside”: supplementary information; a supplementary comment..

Although common in written English, supplementary relative clauses are uncommon in spoken English.

Integrated and supplementary relatives (i): Introduction 2

Now let’s try with another pair: 1. Integrated: “The restaurant which serves couscous is excellent.” 2. Supplementary: “The restaurant, which serves couscous, is excellent.”

A major semantic difference is of course that: ● In (1), the relative clause“which serves couscous” identifies the restaurant. ● In (2), the restaurant is already identified, and the relative clause“which serves couscous” only adds as an aside that it serves couscousCouscous – Berber ⵙⴽⵙⵓ seksu, Arabic كُسْكُس kuskus, Japanese クスクス – is a north African dish, which I warmly recommend. (In that sentence, “which I warmly recommend” is a supplementary relative clause.).

Addition of “incidentally” may make the difference clearer: 1. #“The restaurant which incidentally serves couscous is excellent.” (very strange, perhaps ungrammatical) 2. “The restaurant, which incidentally serves couscous, is excellent.” (good, idiomatic)

Integrated and supplementary relatives (ii): Why the new names?

Often, an integrated relative clause restricts the reference of the nominal it’s attached to. Therefore it is traditionally called a “restrictive” (or “defining”) relative clause.

By contrast, a supplementary relative clause is traditionally called a “non-restrictive” (or “non-defining” or “appositive”) relative clause.

But consider Huddleston and Pullum’s exampleExample from CGEL page 1065. of ● “He sounded like the clergyman he was”. “He was” is a bare integrated relative, but it doesn’t restrict the reference of “clergyman” in any way.

As Huddleston and Pullum point outCGEL, pages 1064–1065., the difference between integrated and supplementary relative clauses is a matter of information packagingFor information packaging, see SIEG, chapter 15.. In their wordsSIEG page 187.:

The information expressed in an integrated relative is presented as an integral part of the larger message.

The information expressed in a supplementary relative is presented as supple­mentary to that expressed in the rest of the sentence: it is additional, often paren­thetical, material.

Integrated and supplementary relatives (iii): Other distinctions

Integrated and supplementary relatives differ either in intonation if spoken or (usually) in punctuation if written.

For punctuation, I quoteThe numbering and colour emphasis are mine. Geoff Pullum’s Language Log post “An HR bureaucrat, whom cannot writeThe “whom” here is of course a joke, and the comma is wrong too. “HR” means “human resources” (i.e. personnel). There’s a link to this post on the last slide.”. Unusually for Pullum, he is writing here as a prescriptivist; unlike many prescriptivists, he knows what he’s writing about.

  1. “‘You can talk to John if you like’ just says that if you want you can talk to John, but ‘You can talk to John, who has more experience, if you like’ adds some supplementary (and definitely secondary) information about John’s experience level.”
  2. “If I say ‘Politicians who I admire never get elected’, with an integrated relative, my claim (possibly a true one, e.g. if I only admire third party candidates) is about politicians who I admire; but if I say ‘Politicians, who I admire, never get elected’, I’m making the false claim that no politicians ever get elected, with the (astonishing) supplementary claim that I admire all politicians.”
  3. “[S]upplementary [relative clauses] must be separated off with commas and integrated ones must not be.”

[commentsPullum’s third point here is slightly too simple. First, when written, supplementary relative clauses may instead be separated off by parentheses or dashes: ● “You can talk to John (who has more experience) if you like.” ● “You can talk to Johnwho has more experienceif you like.” Secondly, although a useful convention says that supplementary relative clauses should be separated off (because otherwise they can easily confuse readers), in real-world written English often they are not separated off. (So each must in Pullum’s last sentence is deontic.)]

Integrated and supplementary relatives (iv): Syntax (1)

(This treatment ignores two important kinds of relative clause: it‑clefts and pseudo-clefts. They’re discussed in Chapter 15.)

Supplementary relatives are “wh” relatives.

Supplementary relatives with which, who(m), where, when and whose are standard. Bare supplementary relatives don’t exist. Supplementary that relatives are very marginalThey were common a century or so ago, but they are rare now. For more, see the Language Log posts by Geoffrey K Pullum and Mark Liberman linked to from the last slide..

Supplementary relatives have a wider range of antecedents.

The antecedent of a supplementary relative clause can be a proper noun (1) or a clause (2): 1. “Sally, who had patiently listened for one hour, got up and left.” 2. “Restoring old bicycles, which bored Sally, delighted Susan.”

(With an integrated relative clause, it normallyAn integrated relative clause can have a proper name as an antecedent if the proper name has a determiner. So for example, if I’m talking in the 2020s about Harajuku as it used to be, complete with the Dōjunkai (同潤会) Aoyama apartments (knocked down in 2003 and replaced with Omotesandō Hills), etc, I can say: “The Harajuku that I used to enjoy has disappeared.” isn’t possible for a proper noun to be an antecedent, and it’s never possible for a clause to be one.)

Integrated and supplementary relatives (v): Syntax (2)

Which as both pronoun and determinative

In a supplementary relative clause, which can be a determinative as well as a pronoun: ● “He waited until the crash of the cymbals, [at which point he fired the gun].” The relativized element (referring back to the antecedent, “crash of the cymbals”) is “which point”: within this, which is a determinative.

Functions of integrated and supplementary relative clauses

An integrated relative clause is a dependent of a noun. (It’s a modifier.) But a supplementary relative clause canYes, it can. However, as I read it, it looks rather stagey. I wonder how common it is in unscripted conversation. even stand by itself as a sentence: Speaker A: “In the new year vacation, we’re going to Britain.” Speaker B: “Which can be miserable at that time of the year. Do you know how short the days are?”

Impersonal “whose”, and gender

In both interrogative and relative clauses: ● “What” and “which” are used for impersonal reference. ● “Who(m)” and “whose” are used for personal reference.

(The latter are occasionally – in poetic or sentimental contexts – used for ships, schools, etc.)

Huddleston and Pullum claimSIEG, page 190. that this is a gender“Gender” is a linguistics term for a class of nouns. In many European languages, there’s a loose relationship between grammatical gender and sociological gender. But grammatical gender need not be related to sociological gender (or sexual differentiation). Instead, it can be personal/impersonal, as here. (And in other languages it can be animate/inanimate, etc.) distinction.

In relative clauses, “whose” can also have impersonal reference: “cities whose mayors are unelected”.

(The alternative is awkward: “cities of which the mayors are unelected”.)

“Who” and “whom”

Traditionally “who” was the nominative form and “whom” the accusative form of the same lexeme. (The genitive form was and remains “whose”.)

The division of labour between the relative pronouns “who” and “whom” parallels the division, which we saw earlier, between the interrogative pronouns “who” and “whom”.

For over a centuryNominative “who” has been used since the 16th century (if not earlier). For examples and comments, see the blog post by Warsaw Will linked to from the last page., “who” has been taking over from “whom”. Now, in accusative contexts: ● traditionally accusative shape, uncommon, formal: “the candidate whom we supported” ● traditionally nominative shape, common, not distinctly formal: “the candidate who we supported” ● non-specific, neutral: “the candidate that we supported”, “the candidate we supported”

However, “whom” is still commoner than “who” for the complement of a fronted preposition: ● “the person to whom she wrote the letter”

Moreover, the use of “whom” may bring other, unexpected benefitsEvidence suggests that women looking for men are more attracted by men who use “whom”. (See the last slide for a link to more about this remarkable finding.).

“Which” and other “wh” words in integrated relative clauses

This is about a prescription. Let’s take the example of one well-known present-day prescriptivist, Bryan A. Garner.

Garner is a lawyer, and the author of Garner’s Modern American UsageThis is a book of almost nine hundred tightly packed pages telling worried Americans how to write better. Its second edition, cited here, was published by Oxford University Press in 2003 and is regarded highly by many people – see Amazon Books’ ratings summary.. In this bookMore precisely, in the 2nd edition (2003) of this book, which I was able to examine without payment. The book is now (2019) up to its 4th edition., Garner spends two pages (782–783) on that versus which in relative clauses. An example that he gives:

“Force Ouvrière, one of the French unions which [read that]This is Garner’s would-be correction in brackets, not mine – and certainly not Huddleston or Pullum’s. With this would-be correction, Garner means to say: “The material I’m looking at says ‘the industrial action which disrupted the country last year’. But this is poor writing. It should instead say ‘the industrial action that disrupted the country last year’.” were most aggressive in calling for the industrial action that disrupted the country last year, yesterday lost control. . . .”

Garner provides no justification for claiming that a “rule” says that which can’t be used in “restrictive” [i.e. integrated] relative clauses, other than that various people in the 19th century said there was such a rule. (And even in the 19th century, there was no such rule Pullum has checked this, and reports: As a check on just how common it is in excellent writing, I searched electronic copies of a few classic novels to find the line on which they first use which to introduce an integrated relative, to tell us how much of the book you would need to read before you ran into an instance:
A Christmas Carol (Dickens): 1,921 lines, first occurrence on line 217 = 11% of the way through;
Alice in Wonderland (Carroll): 1,618 lines, line 143 = 8%;
Dracula (Stoker): 9,824 lines, line 8 = less than 1%;
Lord Jim (Conrad): 8,045 lines, line 15 = 1%;
Moby Dick (Melville): 10,263 lines, line 103 = 1%;
Wuthering Heights (Bronte): 7,599 lines, line 56 = 0.736%...
Do I need to go on? No. The point is clear. On average, by the time you’ve read about 3% of a book by an author who knows how to write you will already have encountered an integrated relative clause beginning with which. They are fully grammatical for everyone.
Source: Geoffrey K Pullum, “More timewasting garbage, another copy-editing moron”. (For details and a link, see the last slide.) Lord Jim was first published in installments from 1899 to 1900; the others are unambiguously 19th-century. The formal title of “Alice in Wonderland” is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

As SIEG saysSIEG, page 191., this “rule” of English does not exist (other than in the minds of some “language expertsNote the “scare quotes” around “language experts”. These are people who believe that they have an unusual degree of expertise about language. (In an English-language context, they’re people who believe that they have an unusual degree of expertise about English.) They’re not linguists.”). If you’re interested, here is further disproof.

Fused relatives

In a fused relative, the antecedent and the relativized element are fused together.

fused non-fused
“They believe what they are told.” “They believe that which they are told.”
“I know where he’s hiding.” “I know the place where he’s hiding.”

Where and when are used in the fused construction and also in other relative clauses.

Three other “wh” words are used in other relative clauses, but only in limited kinds of fused constructions.

What (a sixth “wh” word) and the “‑ever” formsThus “They believe whatever they are told.” For that matter, you can also use the “‑soever” forms (“They believe whatsoever they are told”), though this now sounds very old-fashioned. of all of these six are used in the fused construction, but not in other relative clauses.

What as determinative

What needn’t be a pronoun; it can also be a determinative: ● “What items were stolen are worth very little.” ● “What juice I drank tasted terrible.” ● “What juice I did drink tasted terrible.”

There’s an implication here that the items were few and that the quantity of juice was small.

Fused relative clauses and interrogative content clauses (i)

Distinguishing between fused relative clauses and interrogative content clauses can be hard. Consider these two: 1. “They enjoyed what they were eating.” 2. “They wondered what they had eaten.”

Enjoy can take a noun phrase as a complement (“They enjoyed the meal”). And we can paraphrase (1) as “They enjoyed that which they were eating” or “They enjoyed the [meal/snack/biscuits, etc] that they were eating.”

Wonder can’t take a noun phrase as a complement (∗“They wondered the lunch”).

We can gloss (2) as “They wondered, ‘What have we eaten?’ ” (By contrast, ∗“They enjoyed, ‘What are we eating?’ ” is nonsensical.)

So (1) contains a fused relative clause, and (2) contains an interrogative content clause.

Fused relative clauses and interrogative content clauses (ii)

Now consider this: 3. “What he had eaten remained a mystery.”

Like any verb, remain can take a noun phrase as its subject. (Example: “The disappearance remained a mystery.”)

So we can gloss (3) as “The meal/dessert/snack/meat/[etc] he had eaten remained a mystery.”

Alternatively, we can gloss (3) as “ ‘What did he eat?’ remained a mystery.”

So (3) is ambiguous: it could contain either a fused relative clause or an interrogative content clause.

And now. . . .


Once you have digested both this slideshow and Huddleston and Pullum’s textbook down to chapter 11, you should be able to do all the exercises 1–5 on pages 193–194.