Skip to main content

I've read in most places that "which" can not modify a clause.  However,  I've seen it used that way quite a bit, and I'm trying to see if they're any exceptions to the rule.

This is what I'd like to say:

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."

Last edited by Jacob B.
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Hi, Jacob,

@Jacob B. posted:

I've read in most places that "which" can not modify a clause.

Actually, we do have sentential "which," in which case "which" has the main clause as antecedent:

- The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which the child could not put with. (The child could not put up with the father getting into a physical altercation with the mother.)

The use of sentential relative clauses is grammatically correct and quite extended.

@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."

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.

Last edited by Gustavo, Co-Moderator
@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.)

"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.

Am I right in thinking that the comma before "which" would be optional?

Thank you, David, for clarifying that sentential "which" will not work as the object to a preposition no matter how lexicalized the verb phrase containing the preposition is. I guess the sentence I proposed above could then be changed to:

- The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which situation the child could not put with.

@Jacob B. posted:

Am I right in thinking that the comma before "which" would be optional?

I personally think the comma can be used or omitted depending on whether the relative clause is interpreted as non-restrictive or as restrictive:

  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which the child was present for. (The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, and the child was present for it.)
  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother which the child was present for (There was one particular physical altercation between father and mother that the child was present for.)

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.)

If I wanted to change the wording to express escalation, would this be acceptable as a sentential relative?

"The father began yelling at the mother,  which escalated into the father striking the mother."

I personally think the comma can be used or omitted depending on whether the relative clause is interpreted as non-restrictive or as restrictive:

  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, which the child was present for. (The father got into a physical altercation with the mother, and the child was present for it.)
  • The father got into a physical altercation with the mother which the child was present for (There was one particular physical altercation between father and mother that the child was present for.)

Excellent paraphrases, Gustavo. I agree with you that the comma is optional and that its presence or absence has that effect on the meaning of the sentence.

@Jacob B. posted:

If I wanted to change the wording to express escalation, would this be acceptable as a sentential relative?

"The father began yelling at the mother,  which escalated into the father striking the mother."

There, Jacob, it is not the father's beginning to yell at the mother which escalated; rather, it is simply his yelling at the mother. Because "which" refers only to the verb phrase "yelling at the mother," the "which"-clause is not a sentential relative.

There, Jacob, it is not the father's beginning to yell at the mother which escalated; rather, it is simply his yelling at the mother. Because "which" refers only to the verb phrase "yelling at the mother," the "which"-clause is not a sentential relative.

I guess I'm not understanding how sentential clauses (or relative clauses in general) work. 😳  I'll try studying this more.

@Jacob B. posted:

I was just seeing if "which escalated into the father striking the mother" from my example was a regular relative clause since it modifies a verb phrase (I didn't know if there were other kinds of relative clauses).

The relative clause does not modify the verb phrase; it is not an adverbial. "Which" simply takes a verb phrase ("yelling at the mother") as its antecedent. Within the relative clause, "which" functions as a substantive. You can replace it with "his yelling at the mother": "his yelling at the mother escalated . . . ."

The relative clause does not modify the verb phrase; it is not an adverbial. "Which" simply takes a verb phrase ("yelling at the mother") as its antecedent. Within the relative clause, "which" functions as a substantive. You can replace it with "his yelling at the mother": "his yelling at the mother escalated . . . ."

Hi David, it's been awhile since I've been on here.  I've really been a lot more confident with my writing, so thank you.   I do have a quick question about the above post.  Would it still work if, instead of "He began yelling at the mother,  which escalated into..." I used "He yelled at the mother, which escalated into..."

@Jacob B. posted:

  Would it still work if, instead of "He began yelling at the mother,  which escalated into..." I used "He yelled at the mother, which escalated into..."

Hi, Jacob B.—That would be rather awkward. Indeed, the semantics would be off. In "He yelled at the mother, which escalated to . . .," the meaning of the "which escalated into . . ." is "That he yelled at the mother escalated into . . . ."

But that is not the meaning. You surely mean that the yelling escalated into something more severe than yelling. It does not make sense to say that the fact of his yelling escalated into something. But you could say:

  • He yelled at the mother, which disturbed her greatly.
  • He yelled at the mother, which made him feel repentant.
  • He yelled at the mother, which he later regretted doing.

Add Reply

×
×
×
×
Link copied to your clipboard.
×