Reply to "Placement of relative clauses"

Hello, Matt, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange!

Matt posted:
Are the following sentences grammatically correct:


Polar bears have dermal bumps on the soles of their feet, which help prevent them slipping on the ice.

This huge mammal possesses razor-sharp claws on its forepaws, which help it to dig through solid ice.

I know that the convention is to place a relative clause after the noun it relates to but the prepositional phrase is throwing me out a little. Seems to read nicely  but I'm not sure it's correct.

Yes, both of those sentences are grammatically correct. A relative clause need not be placed immediately after the noun it modifies, especially when the noun it modifies is the head of a larger noun phrase containing other nouns, e.g.:

  • The President of the United States, who visited California last week, went golfing today at the Ritz Carlton.

I know you wouldn't be tempted to change that to:

  • The President, who visited California last week, of the United States went golfing today at the Ritz Carlton.

The only problem with your sentences is that the relative clauses are ambiguous, unlike the relative clause in the example I've just given. Does the first one, for example, modify "feet" or "bumps"? There is an easy solution for both sentences:

(1a) On the soles of their feet, solar bears have dermal bumps, which prevent them (from) slipping on ice.

(2a) On its forepaws, this huge mammal possess razor-sharp claws, which help it to dig through solid ice.

As you can see, the prepositional phrases that were rendering each relative clause ambiguous as to which noun the relative clause modified can be moved to the front of the sentence. Do not resort to your second set of sentences.

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