the cousin of Kate

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the cousin of Kate

Post by navi » Wed Dec 20, 2017 10:57 am

1) Tom is the cousin of Kate who is a dentist.
2) Tom is the cousin of Kate, who is a dentist.

3) The cousin of Kate who is a dentist had an accident.
4) The cousin of Kate, who is a dentist, had an accident.

In which case:
a) Kate is a dentist
and in which case:
b) The cousin is a dentist

Gratefully,
Navi.
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Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by tony h » Wed Dec 20, 2017 2:26 pm

All are ambiguous.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by BonnieL » Wed Dec 20, 2017 7:52 pm

Tom's cousin, Kate, is a dentist.
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Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by Phil White » Fri Dec 22, 2017 6:51 pm

Firstly, the only difference the commas make is to determine whether the relative clause is defining or non-defining. The meanings are different, but they do not resolve the ambiguity of the referent.

With the best will in the world, I cannot read the first two examples in any other way but that Kate is a dentist. The other two could possibly be ambiguous, but generally, people would understand Kate to be the dentist.

As a rule, we understand a relative clause to refer to the closest preceding noun, which is "Kate" in all your examples. This is the way I read all of them (as defining clauses if you had no commas and as non-defining clauses if you had commas). Sometimes, you can get away with a more distant referent, but it must be clear from context that any noun closer to the relative clause cannot possibly be the referent:

"The dog with the red collar that was chasing the squirrels"
(collars do not chase squirrels, so "dog" must be the referent.

"The dog with the fat owner that was chasing squirrels"
(This is bizarre and amusing, and people would understand it wrongly when they first hear it. People, even fat ones, can chase squirrels, even if it is not normal behaviour.)

Simply reversing the order of the nouns pretty well eliminates the ambiguity in the second pair of examples:
"Kate's cousin, who is a dentist" means that the cousin is the dentist.
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Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by tony h » Fri Dec 22, 2017 10:22 pm

Well done Phil, nicely done.

I think I have spent too much of my life dealing with objects that do not an understood "normal behaviour" that I find it easy to see ambiguities where you have clarity. Or maybe it is because I see such ambiguities, where normally they should not exist, that I found success in my professional life.

Merry Christmas.
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Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by navi » Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:06 pm

Thank you all very much,

The situation has become easier for me to get a grip on. Phil's explanation is extremely detailed and clear and the sentence about a fat man chasing squirrels in unforgettable!

I do have three questions left. Hoping I am not abusing your kindness...

Does this one work:

5) The cousin of Kate's who is a dentist had an accident.

Could it be used instead of:

6) That cousin of Kate's who is a dentist had an accident.

Does '6' necessarily imply that the speaker does not like 'that cousin of Kate's'?

And in case of '1',

1) Tom is the cousin of Kate who is a dentist.

could one ever postmodify a proper noun (in this case 'Kate') with a restrictive (defining) clause? I suppose one could if there were more than one 'Kate's and only one was a dentist, but other than that?

Gratefully,
Navi.
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Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by Phil White » Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:31 pm

navi wrote:
Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:06 pm
The situation has become easier for me to get a grip on. Phil's explanation is extremely detailed and clear and the sentence about a fat man chasing squirrels in unforgettable!
You should walk a dog in a park full of squirrels more often. One sees the strangest things.
navi wrote:
Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:06 pm
Does this one work:
5) The cousin of Kate's who is a dentist had an accident.
It looks odd when you read it, but in the right context in speech, it's fine.
navi wrote:
Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:06 pm
Could it be used instead of:

6) That cousin of Kate's who is a dentist had an accident.
Yes.
navi wrote:
Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:06 pm
Does '6' necessarily imply that the speaker does not like 'that cousin of Kate's'?
Depends how you stress it in speech. It is more likely to be stressed with slightly rising intonation, indicating that the speaker has forgotten or doesn't know the name of the cousin.
navi wrote:
Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:06 pm
And in case of '1',

1) Tom is the cousin of Kate who is a dentist.

could one ever postmodify a proper noun (in this case 'Kate') with a restrictive (defining) clause? I suppose one could if there were more than one 'Kate's and only one was a dentist, but other than that?
NoYes (oops). That's the point of a defining relative clause. It must "define" which Kate we are talking about.

---------
Ed. I was a little sloppy in my original post. Most people would prefer the term "antecedent" to "referent" in this context, and it is the relative pronoun that has an antecedent (or referent), not the relative clause.

Also, I have noticed that people nowadays tend to use the terms "restrictive" and "non-restrictive" when talking about relative clauses. When I learned about them at school, they were "defining" and "non-defining", which I still prefer.
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Re: the cousin of Kate

Post by navi » Sat Dec 23, 2017 9:00 am

Thank you very much for this detailed reply!

I will try to go to the park more often. I don't have a dog, but I don't think that'll keep me from noticing the strange goings-on!

I tend to use 'restrictive', although I am familiar with 'defining'. Actually, 'defining' is a nicer word. A 'restrictive clause' sounds like some kind of prison or something! I'll try to use 'defining' from now on, but I can't promise I will.

Gratefully,
Navi.
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