relative clauses

This is the place to post questions and discussions on usage and style. The members of the Wordwizard Clubhouse will also often be able to help you to formulate that difficult letter.
Post Reply

relative clauses

Post by azz » Sat Aug 31, 2019 9:37 am

a, He was the scientist who had published we didn't know how many important articles.
b. He was the scientist about whom we didn't know how many important articles he has published.

c. She was the reporter we didn't know who he worked for. We knew who the other reporters worked for.
d. She was the reporter about whom we didn't know who he worked for. We knew who the other reporters worked for.


Are the above sentences grammatically correct?

Does (a) imply that he had written a great number of important articles?

Many thanks.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: relative clauses

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Sep 01, 2019 3:09 pm

In c) and d) the subject first appears to be "she", but in the next mention "she" has inexplicably become "he". Is this what you meant to write?

There is no elegant way of conveying the ideas in a) and b) without recasting how they are structured.

I suggest:

He was the scientist who had published an unknown number of important articles.

Presented like this, the statement is unfocused. It almost demands a greater degree of specificity, e.g.

He was the [Belgian] [genetic] scientist who had published an unknown number of important articles [about wheat hybridization] [before Monsanto monopolized the market for GMO seeds],

where each unit enclosed in square brackets exemplifies a possible type of qualification.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: relative clauses

Post by azz » Mon Sep 02, 2019 2:23 am

Thank you so much Erik.

My apologies for the typos in (c) and (d). The 'he's have to be 'she's!


c. She was the reporter we didn't know who she worked for. We knew who the other reporters worked for.
d. She was the reporter about whom we didn't know who she worked for. We knew who the other reporters worked for.


Many thanks.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: relative clauses

Post by Phil White » Thu Sep 05, 2019 6:32 pm

There is a point at which "grammaticality" becomes rather irrelevant. The sentences are all so excruciatingly inelegant and cumbersome that no native speaker would produce them unless, as happens, they have "spoken themselves into a grammatical dead end".

"He was the scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we don't know exactly how many."

Largely as a result of the loss of the case system, the English language is far less able to structure single sentences with multiple qualifications, as the relationships between the qualifier and the qualified element are more difficult to identify without a case system. As a translator from German (which has largely retained its case system) to English, I spend most of my professional life attempting to render sentences that are structured in ways similar to the ones you propose. I invariably have to distribute the content of such sentences over multiple sentences or main clauses in English.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: relative clauses

Post by azz » Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:59 pm

Thank you so much, Phil!

Yes. I have that problem with English.

I have another question.

In your sentence

1. "He was the scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we don't know exactly how many."


is the part after the comma part of the defining clause?

And do these make sense,

2. "Tom was the scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we didn't know exactly how many. Harry was the scientist who had published a number of important articles and we knew exactly how many."

3. The scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we don't know exactly how many, started to talk.


I am not sure either work. I think one has to use more sentences to express the ideas.

Translation is a very difficult job. Nearly impossible. On top of everything, one has to face the limitations of one's own language. I have done some translation and I have had that problem. I think every language has their limitations.

Many thanks.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS

Re: relative clauses

Post by Phil White » Thu Sep 05, 2019 9:16 pm

azz wrote:
Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:59 pm
In your sentence

1. "He was the scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we don't know exactly how many."


is the part after the comma part of the defining clause?
No. The "but" is a coordinating conjunction, so we have two main clauses.
azz wrote:
Thu Sep 05, 2019 8:59 pm
And do these make sense,

2. "Tom was the scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we didn't know exactly how many. Harry was the scientist who had published a number of important articles and we knew exactly how many."

3. The scientist who had published a number of important articles, but we don't know exactly how many, started to talk.


I am not sure either work. I think one has to use more sentences to express the ideas.
Exactly. We simply do not build sentences like that, even if they may be grammatically correct.

The situation with your sentence 3 is a little different. We really do like to have our subject noun and main verb close together at the start of a sentence wherever we can. If we qualify the subject with a relative clause, there is a (purely subjective) limit to the the length of the relative clause before we have forgotten what the subject is. This limit is remarkably short. Furthermore, additional extensive qualification of an element in any relative clause, but particularly those that qualify the subject, is poor style and difficult to follow. German, on the other hand, loves that kind of construction, and listeners seem to have infinite patience waiting for the main verb to arrive.
ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

ACCESS_END_OF_TOPIC
Post Reply