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"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  "This is a famous line from Shakespeare.

I have no difficulty understanding this sentence. But I'm wondering whether the “which we call a rose by any other name ” is a relative clause or not.

If it is a relative clause, what the function of the word"which"?

I am looking forward for an answer. Thank you so much.

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Hello, Winter, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

In the sentence:

- That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

"that" is the head of the subject, and within the relative clause that modifies it, "which we call a rose by any other name," the relative pronoun "which" is the direct object within the clause (its antecedent is "that"):

- We call that a rose by any other name.

We: subject
call: verb
that: direct object
a rose: object complement
by any other name: adjunct of manner

If "that" is the direct object within the sentence above, the relative pronoun that substitutes for it within the relative clause plays the same syntactic role: direct object.

Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor
@Winter posted:

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Hello, Winter, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

I agree with Gustavo that "which we call a rose" is a relative clause which modifies "that" and in which "which" functions as direct object. One common variant of these "that which" constructions is called a free relative clause:

(2a) That which we call soda, they call pop.
(2b) They call pop that which we call soda.

(3a) What we call soda, they call pop.
(3b) They call pop what we call soda.

When "that which we call soda" is changed to "what we call soda," "what" takes on the function of "that which" together. For this reason, free relative clauses are sometimes called "fused" relative clauses.

@Gustavo, Contributor posted:

- We call that a rose by any other name.

Although this thread isn't meant to be about the meaning of the sentence, which Winter says he or she already understands, I would like briefly to address Shakespeare's placement of the "by"-phrase.

I do not think it makes sense to interpret the "by"-phrase as belonging to the relative clause modifying "that." If we are calling something a rose, "rose" is the name by which we are calling it; we are not calling it by any other name.

In Early Modern English, phrase-fronting was used, especially poetic speech, in ways in which it is not commonly used today. I believe the "by"-phrase should be parsed as if it belonged instead to the main clause:

(1a) That which we call a rose(,) by any other name would smell as sweet.
(1b) That which we call a rose would, by any other name, smell as sweet.
(1b) That which we call a rose would smell as sweet by any other name.

Again, I know we are not supposed to be talking about meaning. Nevertheless, I feel that it is important to bring the grammar into alignment with the meaning we already grasp.

The sentence has conditional meaning. We need to parse the "by"-phrase as part of the predicate to have that meaning: "If we called what we call a rose by any other name, what we call a rose would (still) smell as sweet."

Contrast: *?! What we call by any other name a rose would smell as sweet.

Last edited by David, Moderator


Although this thread isn't meant to be about the meaning of the sentence, which Winter says he or she already understands, I would like briefly to address Shakespeare's placement of the "by"-phrase.

I do not think it makes sense to interpret the "by"-phrase as belonging to the relative clause modifying "that." If we are calling something a rose, "rose" is the name by which we are calling it; we are not calling it by any other name.



You are right, David.

In the original, there is both a comma and a line break before the "by"-phrase.

rose quote

Thank you so much for your replies.  This was the first time I posted a question on Grammar Exchange, even without high expectation. While you guys really surprised me by warm welcome and detailed explanations. Now I have a better understanding of the sentence structure and  really appreciate your attention and efforts. I will share the wonderful Grammar Exchange with other ESL learners!

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