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The complex sentence with an attributive clause


§ 157. Attributive clauses function as modifiers to a word of nominal character, which is generally called the antecedent. Usually an attributive clause immediately follows its antecedent, although some types may occasionally be distant.

An attributive clause may be introduced by connectives - relative pronouns (who, whose, whom, what, which, that, as), or relative adverbs (when, where, whence, wherein). The choice of relative word depends on the categorical meaning of the antecedent.


a) If the antecedent denotes a living being, the relative pronoun who, whom, whose, or that is used.

A man whose voice seemed familiar to me gave commands.

Those of Big Lanny’s friends who saw him for the first time had to be told that he couldn’t see.


b) If the antecedent denotes a thing or notion, the relative word which, whose, or that is used; of these that is less formal.


At this remark, to which he did not reply, Gerald's ears grew hot.

He went to the next house, which stood in a small garden.

Clyde bowed and then took the cool hand that Myra extended to him.


Which may be used with reference to animals, although they are living beings.


He called back his dog, which returned obediently to its master.


c) If the antecedent is expressed by all denoting a living being the pronoun who or that is used; if it denotes a thing or notion only the pronoun that is generally used.


All that remained was to enter his name and send off the high entrance fees for the examination.


d) If the antecedent is expressed by everything, something, anything or nothing the relative pronoun that is generally used, or else the clause is joined asyndetically.


There was nothing in his face that spoke of his character.

Everything that you may want is in the wardrobe.

There was something in his low, languid voice that was absolutely fascinating.


e) If the antecedent is modified by the adjective only, the pronoun any, or by an adjective in the superlative degree, the attributive clause is introduced by the pronoun that or is joined asyndetically.


The only object that gave her satisfaction during those days was the white monkey.

This is the best chance that we have.

She could jump at any opportunity that she might have.

f) If the antecedent is modified by the demonstrative pronoun such, the relative pronoun as is used.


She was playing the piano with such feeling as couldn't he expected from a girl of her age.


g) After the antecedent modified by same, several relative expressions may be used:

the same children as..., the same person who..., the same island that...,

the same time when..., the same place where..., etc.


h) Attributive clauses joined by the relative adverbs when, where, whence, whereon (rather obsolete) refer to antecedents designating spatial or temporal notions.


It is the hour when we sleep.

He turned to that huge globe whereon were marked all discoveries of the moment concerning the origin

of modern Man...


i) The relative adverb why refers to antecedents denoting cause or reason.


They see no reason why they should not do so.



As the word-forms coincide, care should be taken not to confuse relative pronouns and adverbs with conjunctive pronouns and adverbs, which are used to introduce nominal clauses. The difference between the two functions lies in that the relative words al­ways refer to an antecedent, whereas in the case of conjunctive words there is no such reference. Compare the following three sentences:


That is the place where we always meet. (a relative adverb)

That is where we always meet. (a conjunctive adverb)

I know where you always meet. (a conjunctive adverb)


Types of attributive clauses


§ 158. Attributive clauses fall into two types, depending on the degree of connection and the relation they bear to the antecedent:

attributive limiting (restrictive) clauses and attributive descriptive (non-restrictive) clauses.

§ 159. Attributive limiting clauses are very closely connected with the antecedent and cannot be removed from the sentence, because the information contained in the attributive clause singles out, determines, or particularizes the person, thing, idea, etc., expressed by the antecedent. Therefore the meaning of the main clause is not complete or is altogether changed without the subordinate clause. The lack of completeness is manifested by some deictic elements (determinants) before the antecedent (mainly articles, demonstrative pronouns, or words with a demonstrative or particularizing meaning, such as the same, the only, the best). The presence of such elements is justified only if the attributive clause is following. For example:


A library is a place where they keep books.

She had become aware of the fact that she was talking loudly.


In these sentences the main part taken separately is not clear because of the article which has a classifying (the first sentence) or a demonstrative force (the second sentence) and therefore requires some explanation in the form of an attributive clause or some context to make explicit what kind of place the library was, what fact was meant.

In some cases the dropping of the attributive clause does not make the main clause incomplete, but its meaning becomes altogether different from the meaning it has in the complex sentence. For example, compare the sentences:


a) Aren’t you the young man who married Fleur Forsyte? (that particular man, Fleur Forsyte’s husband)


b) Aren’t you the young man? (that particular man known to the speaker and the listener, with no further

information for the reader)


Limiting clauses may be joined by a connective with a preposition. These are analogous to prepositional attributes.


This is the man about whom we spoke yesterday.

She inclined more and more to that peace and quietness of which Montague Dartie had deprived her in

her youth.

§ 160. Attributive clauses may be joined to the main clause without a relative word, that is, asyndetically. They are called contact clauses.

Contact clauses are always limiting, for both the main and the subordinate clause complete each other. Thus in the sentence The hum I had heard was the combined result of their whispered repetitions the clause I had heard makes no sense unless the antecedent hum in the main clause makes the meaning of the predicate had heard (and thus the clause itself) complete, though formally the word hum cannot be considered as the direct object of the predicate. Some more examples of the same kind:


He was a man one always forgot.

I know where she kept that packet she had.

I used to learn by heart the things they’d written.

This is the kind of job I’d like.


As can be seen from the above examples, contact clauses are possible only in cases where the antecedent is semantically acceptable in the position of a direct object, prepositional object, or of a predicative in the subordinate clause.


He was a man one always forgot - One always forgot such a man.

I used to learn by heart the things they’d written – They’d written things.


Sentences in which the main and the subordinate clauses have a common part which functions as the subject in the subordinate clause are used nowadays only in dialects and in fiction to give the narration local colour. These are called apokoinu sentences:


Perhaps it was his scars suggested it (his scars suggested it).

John’s was the last name would have occurred to me (the last name would have occurred to me).

The next morning there was a boy came to see me (a boy came tosee me).

§161. An attributive descriptive clause is characterized by a looser connection with the main clause. Usually it contains additional information about the antecedent and may be left out without any serious change in the meaning of the main clause. Attributive descriptive clauses are generally commad off. They are joined by the same connectives as limiting clauses, except the relative pronoun that, and asyndetic connection hardly ever occurs.

The additional descriptive character of the attributive clause is determined by the fact that the antecedent denotes a definite person, place, thing, notion, etc. It is either specified by a limiting attribute, or is expressed by a proper name, or else denotes a unique notion (or one specified by the situation).


At this age, which I judged to be near fifty, he looked extremely young.

I returned to London, where I remained for a week.

I consulted my father, who promised to help me.

She was thinking how little the opening of this war - which had started that morning at five-eleven with

the German army’s marching into Poland - was like the opening of the last.


The supplementary status of the attributive clauses can be illustrated by the following transformation of the first sentence given above.


At this age (and I judged him to be neat-fifty) he looked extremely young.


In formal English relative pronouns and adverbs introducing descriptive clauses may also occur in prepositional phrases opening the subordinate clause, for example: according to which, instead of which, in spite of which, on which, of which, to whom, since when, etc.; also within nominal phrases of the type: the largest part of which, each of which, many examples of which, during which time, which fact, etc. The relative pronoun approaches in its function the anaphoric demonstrative pronoun this, and the clause can be paraphrased by a coordinate or parenthetical clause. For example:


Then a breakfast was given in his honour, on which occasion many speeches were pronounced (and on

this occasion many speeches were pronounced).

The medicine was overdosed, which fact caused the immediate death of the patient (and this fact caused

the immediate death of the patient).



Compounds of where and a preposition, such as whereby, wherefore, whereto, etc., are now confined to extremely formal English only and are replaced in less formal style by for which, by which, to which, etc.

§ 162. An attributive descriptive clause referring to a whole clause, sentence, series of sentences, or even a whole story is called a continuative (or sentential) attributive clause. It is generally introduced by the connective which, occasionally by that.

When the attributive continuative clause refers to a sentence, it may be separated by a semicolon, a dash, or even by a full stop.


She lived in two rooms over a teashop, which was convenient, since she could send down for cakes and

scones if she had visitors. (...Что было удобно... поскольку...).

Several times he caught her looking at him with a hurt, puzzled expression, which pleased his evil mood

(...что тешило его злобу).


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