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Grammar about Relative Clauses

English grammar questions, answered by Alan

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Ravenssa
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Grammar about Relative Clauses

Post by Ravenssa » Thu Feb 07, 2019 5:47 pm

Hello dear users,
I have a question that made me confused..

Which sentence is true?

I know what your favorite is.

I know what is your favorite.

Or,
Which sentence is true?
I know which is your favorite.

I know which your favorite is.


Could you help me at this problem? thanks..

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Alan
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Re: Grammar about Relative Clauses

Post by Alan » Fri Feb 08, 2019 6:24 am

A very good question!

Natural word-order in such cases is determined by the status of the referent of the interrogative (what/which) as either SUBJECT or COMPLEMENT of the canonical version of the sentence (i.e. the theoretical simple 'original' from which the more complex version is deemed to have derived).

The canonical version of

I know what this is.

is a sentence such as

This is a table.

in which the referent of 'what' - a table - functions as complement.

For this reason, 'what' in the more complex, embedded version is likewise deemed to play the role of complement and precedes the subject (this).

However, whereas 'what' normally stands for an INDEFINITE noun phrase ('a ...' rather than 'the ...'), 'which' typically stands for a DEFINITE noun phrase (='this/that...'). Since definite noun phrases generally function as subjects rather than as complements, we tend to find 'which' as subject rather than as complement in the complex, embedded form.

Thus, for example, a canonical sentence such as

[1] This (sport) is my favorite sport.

would yield the embedded form

[1a] I know which (sport) is your favorite sport.

where 'which', as subject immediately precedes the verb.

The order of elements in the canonical sentence, therefore, is the only issue to be resolved with regard to determining order in the embedded version, which follows automatically. However, that issue is not necessarily a very simple one, since, in practice, there is no specific rule of grammar preventing us from reversing the order of elements in [1] and saying

[2] My favorite sport is this (sport).

which would, logically yield

[2a] *I know which (sport) your favorite sport is.

However, the unacceptability/extreme unnaturalness of [2a] serves to indicate the general principle that, where two definite noun phrases are equated in a copular construction, a demonstrative naturally precedes a possessive. Thus, while both [1] and [2] above are acceptable sentences in their own right, only [1] is considered suitable to serve as a canonical form for the construction of embedded sentences.

This is a somewhat tricky topic. I hope this answer has served to shed at least a little light on it for you!

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Re: Grammar about Relative Clauses

Post by Alan » Fri Feb 08, 2019 6:33 am

P.S. Just for future reference, we speak of sentences in grammar as being correct/incorrect rather than true/false!

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