does a relative pronoun really introduce a subordinate clause?

JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English defines 'relative pronoun' as follows:
one of the pronouns who, whom, which, what, their compounds with -ever or -soever, or that used as the subordinating word to introduce a subordinate clause, esp. such a pronoun referring to an antecedent.
What exactly do they mean a relative pronoun introduces a subordinate clause? That it has the function of a conjunction? Or even that it is a conjunction?
 
  • grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    That it has the function of a conjunction? Or even that it is a conjunction?
    No, just because something introduces a clause doesn't mean it has to be a conjunction. Relative pronouns act like subjects (or objects) and conjunction don't; that's the difference.
     
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    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    That they start the subordinate clause.
    But not all relative pronouns start a relative clause.
    In the following sentence, for example, which doesn't start the relative clause:
    The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday, is worth reading.

    Even if we're to focus on the cases where a relative pronoun start a subordinate clause, does the fact that something starts a subordinate clause necessarily mean it introduces the subordinate clause?
    In the following sentence, for example, does what start a subordinate clause?
    I don't know what you're talking about.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    But not all relative pronouns start a relative clause.
    In the following sentence, for example, which doesn't start the relative clause:
    The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday, is worth reading.

    Even if we're to focus on the cases where a relative pronoun start a subordinate clause, does the fact that something starts a subordinate clause necessarily mean it introduces the subordinate clause?
    In the following sentence, for example, does what start a subordinate clause?
    I don't know what you're talking about.
    I don't think the quote in the OP means they always do!

    one of the pronouns ... used as the subordinating word to introduce a subordinate clause
    ,
     

    Rival

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    John, who lives next door, gave me a puppy.
    Main clause --> John gave me a puppy
    Subordinate clause, introduced by who --> who lives next door.
    The subordinate clause simply tells us a bit more about John.

    .
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    'A copy of which' is a phrase which has relative value; it's what I call a relative marker (I think because the Cambridge Grammar calls it that). It introduces or begins the subordinate clause. It's complex and isn't in the list of various things that your quoted sentence mentions, but mentioning such possibilities would make the definition too long. There are perhaps other variations that could be mentioned: 'and which', for example.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    I don't think the quote in the OP means they always do!
    Do you seriously think that "used as the subordinating word to introduce a subordinate clause" modifies "one" instead of "the pronouns who, whom, which, what, their compounds with -ever or -soever, or that"?
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    'A copy of which' is a phrase which has relative value; it's what I call a relative marker (I think because the Cambridge Grammar calls it that).
    I doubt that the book would ever call 'a copy of which' or 'which' a relative marker. It does call 'that' introducing a relative clause, though, not a relative pronoun but the same marker of clause subordination as in content clauses.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Let's clarify a couple of things here, to begin with. The topic seems to be moving in several different directions at once. So we need some clarity.

    The first point is, yes, a relative pronoun always introduces a relative clause. (The relative clause is a subordinate clause.) That's its function. Are transformations possible when a sentence is embedded into a noun phrase (see below)? Yes, of course. But the basic answer to your first question is yes. That's what relative pronouns do. Then at some point you posted:

    But not all relative pronouns start a relative clause.
    In the following sentence, for example,
    which doesn't start the relative clause:
    The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday, is worth reading.


    This is a misleading objection because not all relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun. Relative pronouns start relative clauses, yes, but that doesn't mean all relative clauses begin precisely with relative pronouns. Here are several examples:

    The kid from whom you took the toy is screaming. (oblique object NP)
    The man whose wife you admired is very angry. (genitive NP)

    The reason for these differences is that there are different kinds of noun phrases which can be relativized, and they're not all subject or direct object noun phrases. English is actually quite rich in the kinds of noun phrases that can be relativized: subject NP's, direct object NP's, indirect object NP's, oblique object NP's, genitive NP's and object NP's of comparison. When the NP is relativized, the sentence(s) go through various transformations.

    The third point I want to make here goes back to your initial statement, when you asked if what you had read implied that a relative pronoun has the function of, or in fact is, a conjunction. A conjunction is similar to a relative pronoun, yes, because it conjoins two sentence structures. But in English there are at least three different ways to conjoin separate sentence structures (not yet counting the use of relative pronouns):

    1) with an adverbial subordinator, as in:

    I learned how to drive before my father gave me permission to get licensed.

    2) Conditional sentences are said by some grammarians to be linked with a special type of coordinating conjunction (that's what they call if...then) but the truth is that conjunctions conjoin sentences of the same type (statements with statements, imperatives with imperatives, etc.) whereas conditional sentences can conjoin sentences of different types; they are a kind of subordinate rather than coordinate conjoining. For example:

    If you aren't doing anything, come visit me this Friday.

    Conditional sentences express the dependence of one set of conditions (the result clause) on another (the if clause). And so you have subordination here, similar to 1).

    3) Finally, you have two sentence structures conjoined by conjunctions. We touched on this already.

    The kids dressed up for Christmas and they put lights on the tree.

    Now we get to relative clauses. These are different from the previous three because whereas the previous three examples showed structures joined with subordination or conjunction, relative clauses show a structural relationship brought about in a process called embedding.

    The women who attended the lecture found the professor very attractive.

    The embedded sentence "who attended the lecture" (its original form was "The women attended the lecture.") has a kind of modifying function like an adjective, and the final result is what we call a sentence with a restrictive relative clause. What happens in the process of embedding is called "relative pronoun substitution," in which a relative pronoun replaces the head noun phrase in the embedded sentence. Thus is transformed "The women" into "who." This is how a relative clause appears in the final surface structure, with a relative pronoun kicking off the relative clause. I'd diagram it here for you but I don't see the tools for that.

    So to answer your original question, it's really quite simple. Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses, just as your dictionary tells you. That doesn't mean there aren't derivations and extrapolations and interpolations and transformations that result in richer, more complex structures. I've given you some noun phrase elaborations above, and remember that the final relative clause is under the surface a sentence embedded within the NP (noun phrase) with a marker. If it's a genitive noun phrase, you may see the preposition "of" in there too, e.g. "of whom" or "of which." But yes, the relative pronoun's basic job is to replace the embedded sentence's noun phrase and the final result is a relative clause.

    What about your troublesome sentence?

    The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday, is worth reading.

    The "a copy of which I bought yesterday" is an appositive. The embedded sentence in this nonrestrictive relative clause is "I bought a copy of the book yesterday." You should look into nonrestrictive relative clauses if you want to understand the transformations this sentence has gone through (hint: look at the example I gave above of the relativized genitive NP).

    I don't know what issues might be present for you as a native Korean speaker, but I think you might be used to the relative clause coming antecedent to the head noun, if Korean is like Chinese and Japanese. English relative clauses follow the head noun ("The women" in the sentence above), but I think this ordering is different from what you're used to in Korean.
     
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    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks for the detailed answer, coiffe.

    Everyone so far agrees that a relative pronoun does introduce a relative clause whether or not it's located at the start of the relative clause.
    So far so good.

    But my initial question was not whether a relative pronoun introduces a relative clause, but what exactly such an introduction mean -- more specifically whether it means a relative pronoun has the function of a conjunction or even is a conjunction.

    And your answer, coiffe, seems to be telling me that a relative pronoun is a conjunction but a different kind of conjunction that is realized though 'embedding'. Right?

    I understand that a relative clause is embedded in a matrix clause, and that so is an interrogative clause as was shown in post #5:

    I don't know what you're talking about.


    Here, the interrogative clause what you're talking about is embedded.
    And can you say the what introduces the interrogative clause?
    If so, can you also say the interrogative pronoun what is a conjunction (yes, a different type of conjunction) as well, just as a relative pronoun is, because the interrogative clause is embedded?

    As a side note:
    The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday, is worth reading.
    If a copy of which I bought yesterday is an appositive, how come you cannot say this?
    A copy of which I bought yesterday is worth reading. :confused:
    Even replacing which with the book, I don't find the sentence the same as the original:
    A copy of the book I bought yesterday is worth reading. :eek:
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Hi Jungkim,

    It's not a conjunction. That's why I explained four different ways of conjoining two separate sentences. Conjunctions are simply one (or two) way(s) of doing it. Conjunctions join up sentences of the same type. I explained that, I think. Other ways of conjoining sentences do not have that prescription. Anyway it's simply not the case that conjunctions alone connect separate sentences. You're implying that with your question, and it isn't true. Relative pronouns also do that, in a very different way.

    But I'm wondering if maybe I don't understand your question. You ask what it means for a relative pronoun to introduce a relative clause. Does that mean you don't understand what "introduce" means? It means, it's what starts a relative clause. However, I tried to dig a little deeper and explain precisely that a relative pronoun REPLACES the noun phrase in the embedded sentence that matches the head noun in the main clause. That's what a relative pronoun does in transformative terms.

    Regarding your troublesome sentence, the reason it's difficult to understand is that the noun phrase in the embedded sentence that must be replaced with a relative pronoun (the noun phrase that matches the subject noun in the main clause, "The book,") is actually a noun marked for possession. The embedded sentence is actually:

    I bought the book's copy yesterday. (ambiguous: the copy of the book or a copy of the book? But I show it to you this way so you can see the simple possessive structure of it.

    I simplified it earlier because this becomes very difficult to explain (on a forum). It's actually the determiner (the book's), a noun phrase marked for possession, which matches the head noun of the main clause ("The book"), and the transformative process whereby this is replaced by a relative pronoun ("of which") is rather difficult to explain. Not to mention the role of the article "a" in "a copy."

    But this should help: the sentence is analogous to: "The girl whose sister you love is a librarian." This is a little easier to explain, because the embedded sentence is "You love the girl's sister." and the noun phrase in the embedded sentence that matches the head noun "The girl" is "The girl's" -- the possessive form of the girl. In this case, this is replaced by the relative pronoun "whose," and you finally get the surface structure after several steps of relative pronoun fronting and morphological changes etc. of "The girl whose sister you love is a librarian."

    Your troublesome sentence is more difficult to explain, even though it's almost exactly the same structural problem, because "The book" is a thing and in English we don't use the word "whose" to refer to objects. Therefore you get the genitive construction "of which" and this becomes the form of the relative pronoun that replaces "The book's" and subsequently goes through the transformation process to yield "The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday," etc. etc.

    So what you really have (simplified ungrammatically) in your troublesome sentence is:

    The book, whose copy I bought yesterday, is worth reading.

    Of course, this is not legal in English, but when you see it you may realize how "whose=of which" is the relative pronoun kicking off the relative clause. I give the illegal English so that you can see the underlying structure. Obviously some other transformation rules have to be applied to get the legal version, which was your original troublesome sentence. I could go through every explicit step for you here, but from reading your comments I think you can figure it out yourself. The paragraph above about "The girl whose sister you love" should help you surmount any obstacles in your analysis. After you do, you'll realize that the "which" or "of which" in your troublesome sentence does play the part of the relative pronoun in that nonrestrictive relative clause.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Do you seriously think that "used as the subordinating word to introduce a subordinate clause" modifies "one" instead of "the pronouns who, whom, which, what, their compounds with -ever or -soever, or that"?

    which /hwɪtʃ, wɪtʃ/ pron.
    1. (used in questions) what one or ones:Which of these do you want?
    2. whichever;
      the one that:Choose which appeals to you.
    3. (used in relative clauses to refer back to a word that has already been mentioned and to pause to give it emphasis):This book, which I read last night, was exciting.
    4. (used in a relative clause that starts with a preposition):That's the house in which I lived.

    adj. [before a noun]
    1. what one or ones of a number or group:Which book do you want?
    2. whichever:Go which way you please.
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    It's not a conjunction.
    But it has the function of a conjunction?
    Or it doesn't even have such a function?


    "The book" is a thing and in English we don't use the word "whose" to refer to objects.
    Are you sure about that?
    Somehow I find it natural to say:
    The book, whose copy I bought yesterday, is worth reading.
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    But it has the function of a conjunction?
    Or it doesn't even have such a function?



    Are you sure about that?
    Somehow I find it natural to say:
    The book, whose copy I bought yesterday, is worth reading.
    We seem to be back, as usual :) , to definitions. What do you mean by conjunction?
    I would never say
    The book, whose copy I bought yesterday, is worth reading. (unless there is known to be only one copy in existence)
    The book, a copy of which I bought yesterday, ...
    This is probably because "whose" doesn't work with an indefinite article in that construction.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Just popping in to say ~ the reason The book, whose copy I bought yesterday, is worth reading doesn't work, is, for me, the fact that you wouldn't use a possessive in the equivalent stand-alone clause:
    That book is worth reading. I bought its copy yesterday.:cross:
    That book is worth reading. I bought a copy of it yesterday.:tick:
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    So it's not because you can't use 'whose' to refer to objects.
    No, it's because the relationship between the book and the millions of copies of the book is not expressed well as a genitive.
    The boy, whose father I met yesterday, is 10 years old. I met the boy's father. The boy has one father.
    You cannot buy "the book's copy." The book has millions of copies. :( There are millions of copies of the book. ;)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    So it's not because you can't use 'whose' to refer to objects.
    You can of course use "whose" to refer to objects, in cases where the s genitive is possible.

    This book's cover is torn. This book, whose cover is torn, may still fetch a good price.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    We don't say "The book, whose copy I bought yesterday," because it's incorrect in the ways Myridon and JulianStuart and others have explained. It's also true that "whose" can be used with objects, and I should have said earlier it's not usually referring to objects, not that it doesn't refer to objects. But again we stray from Jungkim's original questions. The reason I posted the sentence "The book, whose copy I bought yesterday," etc. with the proviso at the time that it was incorrect, was to illustrate the basic structure of the original problem sentence, showing that it's a possessive relative pronoun that replaces the possessive noun phrase in the embedded sentence.

    But I'm not sure what else to say about the original question concerning conjunctions. There are various parts of speech in English: verbs, nouns, conjunctions, relative pronouns, adverbs, etc. Relative pronouns are not conjunctions, any more than they are verbs. That's my basic thought on that.

    cheers
     
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