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Reply to "Which modifying a clause"

@Jacob B. posted:


Option 1 ("which" modifying preceding clause):  "The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which the child was present for."

These are some alternate ways I can think of saying it, though none of them really seem to work:

Option 2 (appositive phrase): "The father got into a physical altercation, with the mother, which the child was present for."

Option 3 (relative clause): "The father got into a physical altercation, which the child was present for, with the mother."

Option 4 (changing the wording): "The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, and the child was present for the altercation."

Option 5 (leaving the original wording without adding a comma):  "The father got into a physical altercation with the mother which the child was present for."

I wonder if the preposition "for" really works there (any thoughts, David?). I think that, unless there is a close relationship between the verb, or the verb phrase (be present, in this case), and the preposition or adverbial particle that follows (as is the case with prepositional and phrasal verbs, as in my example further above), a noun will be required to sum up the situation described by the clause, for example:

- The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, on which occasion the child was present.

Hi, Jacob and Gustavo,

I agree with you, Gustavo, that "for" does not work well there ("The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which the child was present for"), assuming the "which"-clause is to be understood as a sentential relative.

"For" is fine if we understand the "which"-clause to be modifying the noun phrase headed by "altercation." And that is how I understand Jacob's relative clause—not as a sentential relative clause, but as a normal nonrestrictive relative clause.

  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother.
  • The child was present for it.
  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which the child was present for.

The manipulations you have used, Jacob, in the various options tell me that you think a relative clause needs to follow "altercation" immediately if it is to modify that noun. That is not the case. The relative clause is one of many modifiers.

@Jacob B. posted:

Could a sentential still be used if "got into a physical altercation" was replaced with a single verb, for example:

-The father punched the mother, which the child could not put up with.

That sentence does not really work. Sentential relatives do not work when "which" functions as the object of a preposition. We can add a noun, such as "occasion," after the preposition, but that changes the structure.

When a prepositional phrase occurs as an adverbial modifier in a clause, even as part of a phrasal verb construction ("put up with something"), the complement (or object) of the preposition will be a noun phrase, not a clause.

Thus, the reader/hearer will understand (or try to understand) the antecedent of a "which" that functions, within its clause, as the object of a preposition as referring to a noun phrase, not to a clause.

But for a sentential relative clause to work as a sentential relative clause, the "which" must be understandable as referring to the propositional content of a clause which it is modifying. Try to use verbs that can be followed by "that":

  • The father punched the mother, which was too much for the child to bear.
    (= The father's punching the mother was too much for the child to bear.)
  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which was too much for the child to bear.
    (= The father's getting into a physical altercation with the mother was too much for the child to bear.)
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