PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Advanced English Grammar for ESL Learners (2011)
11 The structure of adjective clauses
In this chapter we will examine how adjective clauses are constructed. In particular, we will examine (1) the internal structure of adjective clauses, (2) creating and moving relative pronouns, (3) deleting relative pronouns, and (4) moving objects of prepositions.
Adjective clauses function in two different ways depending on whether or not they restrict the meaning of the nouns they modify. This distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses is discussed in detail in the next chapter. In this chapter, however, we will ignore the distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses because both types are constructed the same way. All of the examples in this chapter will be of restrictive adjective clauses.
The internal structure of adjective clauses
Adjective causes have a distinct internal structure: they must begin with a relative pronoun. For this reason, adjective clauses are often called relative clauses. In the following examples, the adjective clauses are underlined and the relative pronouns are in bold.
I need the book that is on the shelf behind you.
The young man who answered the door is her cousin.
Relative pronouns have no independent meaning of their own, but instead take their meaning from the nouns in the main sentence that the adjective clauses modify. These nouns are called the antecedents of the relative pronouns. In the first example, the antecedent of that is book. In the second example, the antecedent of who is man.
Normally adjective clauses immediate follow their antecedents. Sometimes, though, antecedents can be followed by short modifiers that separate them from the relative pronouns that begin the adjective clauses. For example:
I met a man at work who says he knows you.
Obviously the antecedent of who is man, not the nearest noun work. Separating adjective clauses from their antecedents is legitimate as long as they are still close together and it is perfectly clear which noun is the antecedent of the relative pronoun.
There are several different relative pronouns. Which pronoun we use is determined by the nature of the antecedent. The following chart summarizes the relative pronouns that go with each type of antecedent:
Note: In conversation, that is used to refer to human antecedents about 30 to 40 percent of the time. We will ignore this informal usage in this presentation.
Here is an example of each type of antecedent:
In the following sentences, the adjective clauses have been underlined, but the spaces for the relative pronouns have been left blank. Determine which relative pronoun should be used and write it in the blank space. In this exercise we will only use who for human antecedents (i.e., you won’t need whom and whose ). The first question is done as an example.
Take the first right turn ( ) you come to.
Take the first right turn (that) you come to.
1. Use the desk ( ) is next to the window for now.
2. I finally got the mosquito ( ) had bothered me all night.
3. We searched for a place ( ) we could cross the river.
4. I wanted you to meet the people ( ) were so helpful during the power outage.
5. Let’s pick a time ( ) we can all meet.
6. I can’t stand the sugary cereal ( ) the kids eat.
7. I only know the people in the building ( ) work in finance.
8. My parents live in a little town ( ) everyone knows everyone else.
9. The symptoms ( ) I had were pretty typical.
10. It was a period ( ) everything seemed to go wrong all at once.
Relative pronouns are the link between the adjective clause and the noun in the main sentence that the adjective clause modifies (the relative pronoun’s antecedent). As we have seen, the antecedent determines both the meaning of the relative pronoun and which relative pronoun is used.
However, INSIDE the adjective clause, the relative pronoun plays a normal pronoun role that has nothing to do anything outside the adjective clause. Inside its adjective clause, the relative pronoun is like any other pronoun: it can be the subject of its clause; it can be an object of the verb; it can be the object of a preposition; or it can be a possessive pronoun that modifies a noun. It can also be used in an adverbial prepositional phrase where it expresses spatial or temporal meaning. Here are some examples with both human and nonhuman pronouns. The relative pronoun is in bold and the entire adjective clause is underlined.
Identify which of the following six roles the relative pronouns play in the adjective clauses below:subject, object, object of preposition, possessive, spatial, ortemporal. The first question is done as an example.
We located the person whose truck had been blocking our driveway.
1. I didn’t know the person whom they were discussing.
2. We talked to some of the other parents whose children go to the same school as ours.
3. Some of the tests that were done earlier need to be redone.
4. We went to a restaurant where they serve Middle Eastern food.
5. The farmhouse that my grandparents used to live in was finally torn down last year.
6. We were able to refinance the mortgage that we have on our house.
7. I couldn’t remember the name of the person who first told me that.
8. Find someone whose cell phone can get a signal.
9. The mall that we went to is way over on the other side of town.
10. I had to return the CD that I just bought because it was defective.
Creating and moving relative pronouns
One of the distinctive characteristics of adjective clauses is that they begin with relative pronouns. When the relative pronoun plays the role of subject in its own clause, the relative pronoun is automatically at the beginning of the adjective clause. But how do all the other nonsubject relative pronouns get to the beginning of the adjective clause? Answer: we must move all nonsubject relative pronouns to the beginning of the adjective clause. We will now look at this complex process in more detail.
All adjective clauses start out as statements that use the antecedent noun in some role within the adjective clause. (The antecedent must be in the underlying adjective clause or else the adjective clause would not be a statement about the antecedent.)
In all the examples below, we will put the underlying adjective clause in parentheses to remind us that this underlying clause must be converted to an actual relative clause. The repeated antecedent noun is in bold.
The process of converting the underlying adjective clause to an actual adjective clause takes two steps:
1. Replace the antecedent with the appropriate relative pronoun.
2. Move the relative pronoun to the first position in the adjective clause.
The first step has to factor in two totally independent pieces of information: first, the nature of the antecedent noun itself (i.e., we have to decide whether the antecedent noun is human, nonhuman, spatial, or temporal), and second, the role of the antecedent noun inside the adjective clause (i.e., we have to decide whether the antecedent noun is acting as the object of a verb, the object of a preposition, a possessive noun, a spatial noun, or a temporal noun). These two pieces of information are represented in the following table:
The second step is to move the relative pronoun to the first position inside the adjective clause. Here is an example that uses a nonhuman antecedent noun as the object of the verb:
The first step is to replace the antecedent noun with the appropriate relative pronoun: that
The second step is to move the relative pronoun to the first position inside the adjective clause:
They own some property that they want to sell.
Here is a second example, but this time the antecedent noun is human:
I met the teacher (you liked the teacher so much).
Here are examples of antecedent nouns playing each of the remaining roles:
Notice that when we move a possessive pronoun, we must also move the noun that the possessive modifies. In the example above, “whose dog” moves as a single unit.
Note: The adverbial relative pronouns where and when replace the entire adverbial prepositional phrase.
Use the two-step process to form an adjective clause from the underlying sentences. The first question is done as an example.
We took the road (the guide book recommended the road).
We took the road that the guide book recommended.
1. We learned that from the students (we met the students on the campus tour).
2. The police were searching the area (the campers had last been seen in that area).
3. I remember the day (she was born on the day).
4. He is a person (one could always turn to the person).
5. I will introduce you to the teacher (you will be taking the teacher’s class).
6. Two thousand three was the year (they were married in that year).
7. Do you know the place (they are planning to meet in the place)?
8. Unfortunately, he is a man (no one can depend on the man).
9. She is the author (we are reading the author’s book in my literature class).
10. They visited Sutter’s Mill (gold was first discovered in California at Sutter’s Mill).
Deleting relative pronouns
Two roles that antecedent nouns play inside relative clauses have more than one way of being realized as relative clauses: the objects of verbs and the objects of prepositions. By far the most important of these are antecedent nouns that play the role of objects of verbs. For relative pronouns that do NOT play the role of subject, there is a third optional step: delete the relative pronoun. Here are two examples, one with a human noun and one with a non-human noun:
Note: We will use the null symbol Ø to represent an element that has been deleted from the sentence.
Here are some more examples of deleted relative pronouns playing nonsubject roles:
We cannot delete possessive relatives because we would be left with an ungrammatical fragment of a noun phrase:
This option of deleting nonsubject relative pronouns is commonly used. In fact, in conversation, the relative pronoun is omitted about 25 percent of the time according to a major study.
When the relative pronoun is deleted from the beginning of an adjective clause, the truncated relative clause is much more difficult to recognize for the obvious reason that the relative pronoun, the flag word that normally signals the beginning of the relative clause, is no longer there.
All of the following sentences contain an unidentified adjective clause with a deleted relative pronoun. Underline the adjective clause and confirm your answer by restoring the appropriate relative pronoun at the beginning of the adjective clause. The first question is done as an example.
I answered the only question I got.
I answered the only question that I got.
1. We really like the color you painted the living room.
2. The children we saw must belong to the couple next door.
3. The time we were supposed to meet will not work after all.
4. The food they serve in the cafeteria would choke a goat.
5. Everyone hopes that the place we want to meet is still available.
6. We talked to the young couple you told us about.
7. The defense challenged the evidence the prosecution presented at the trial.
8. They were happy to accept the offer we had agreed on.
9. The dean congratulated the seniors the department chairs had nominated.
10. We ended up buying the place the real estate agent had taken us.
Moving objects of prepositions
The second area in which there is an option in how relative pronouns are treated is when antecedent nouns play the role of object of a preposition. Let us take as an example the following underlying sentence:
We met the new senator (so much has been written about the new senator).
Step 1 is the same:
Step 2 has an option. We can move the relative pronoun to the first position of the adjective clause as we have done before, producing
We met the new senator whom so much has been written about.
Or we can move BOTH the pronoun AND the preposition that controls the pronoun, producing this alternative form of the adjective clause:
We met the new senator about whom so much has been written.
Both of these alternatives are fully grammatical. However, there is substantial difference between practices in spoken language and formal written language. When we are speaking (except for the most formal, almost ceremonial occasions) we would move the relative pronoun by itself. In formal written language, many writers would move both the preposition and the relative pronoun. This choice reflects a traditional (if somewhat old-fashioned) reluctance to end sentences with prepositions.
With nonhuman antecedents the alternative of moving the preposition is a little more complicated because we have to use the relative pronoun which in step 1 instead of the usual relative pronoun that. For example:
If we move the preposition, we no longer have the option of deleting the relative pronoun:
Turn the following underlying sentences into two different forms of adjective clauses, the first where the relative pronoun has moved by itself and the second where the relative pronoun and the preposition move together. The first question is done as an example.
The new conductor (we just learned about the new conductor) is from Germany.
The new conductor whom we just learned about is from Germany.
The new conductor about whom we just learned is from Germany.
1. The gate (we had driven earlier through the gate) was closed by the police.
2. The story (we reported on the story last night) has become national news.
3. The people (we made friends with the people) invited us over for dinner.
4. We made an offer on the apartment (we looked at the apartment yesterday).
5. We finally resolved the issues (we had been fighting about the issues for some time).
6. We had to reconsider the items (we had not budgeted for the items).
7. He was finally given the reward (he was entitled to the reward).
8. I brought up the issues (we had talked about the issues before).
9. We went back to the doctor (we had previously consulted with the doctor).
10. We bought the house (my parents had lived in the house).