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New Member
Castilian Spanish
I am interested in a phenomenon called EXTRAPOSITION in English. An example follows:

(1) A man came in that I didn't know.
The relative clause at the end of the sentence refers to [a man] but does not immediately follow it, although that is also possible:
(2) A man that I didn't know came in.

As I was reading about the topic, I came across the following example:

(3) In which magazine did you see it which was lying on the coffee table?

Is it acceptable?

I constructed the following. Are they acceptable?

(4) a. Which colour did he choose that you didn't like?
b. Which book were you interested in that was not part of our catalogue?

Would it be possible that some native speaker tells me if these sentences are OK? If not, how could they be improved?
Thank you very much.
  • Tazzler

    Senior Member
    American English
    Hello and welcome. I doubt the "magazine" example is correct, partly due to confusion between the relative clause and the noun modified. But, your sentences are grammatical.


    New Member
    Castilian Spanish
    Hi and thanks a lot! How do you mean it 'confusion'? That the relative clause might be construed with both 'magazine' and 'it'?


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I share Tazzler's intuitions: both (4a) and (4b) sound perfectly natural, but (3) doesn't. It's hard to say why, however. The obvious difference* is that in (3) the relative clause comes straight after another noun phrase, so we are tempted to take them together: 'it which was lying on the coffee table'. But I don't think that's the whole story - first, because pronouns can't take relative clauses like that, so that possibility should get ignored, and second because extraposed relative clauses can actually follow other noun phrases without too much confusion:

    (1') A man came in the door that I didn't know.

    Intonation distinguishes two readings here. If 'the door that I didn't know' has level intonation until the drop at the end, it's a noun phrase containing a relative clause - I didn't know the door. But if a drop happens on 'door', that detaches the relative clause, so now it's a man I didn't know. It can look odd in writing, but it is quite a natural thing to say.

    So now I have to think some more about why (3) sounds wrong.

    * Another is 'which' versus 'that', but swapping them round doesn't affect my intuitions.


    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm wondering if it's the relatively formal "In which magazine ..." that makes (3) sound awkward.

    I don't think I'd be as worried (in informal speech) by Which magazine did you see it in that was lying on the coffee table?


    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I really think that in order to make sentence (3) sound right, you need to get the magazine closer to the table: Which magazine lying on the coffee table did you see it in?


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've been saying sentence (3) a few times, and I agree that its present form is unacceptable, but Loob's version sounds acceptable. So perhaps we have to say that extraposition works best in more spoken and informal contexts.


    New Member
    Castilian Spanish
    Hi again, two further questions to extraposition:

    Is it possible in embedded contexts?

    (1) a. I asked Peter which colour he chose that Mary didn't like.
    b. I would like to find out which book you were interested in that was not part of our catalogue.

    And long-distance, as in (2)?

    (2) a. Which book did you say that you were interested in that/which was not part of our catalogue?
    b. Which colour did you say that Peter had chosen that/which you didn't like?

    The sentences sound OK to me, but I'm not a native speaker and you never know. I would appreciate opinions. Thanks a lot.


    Senior Member
    English - US
    (3) In which magazine did you see it which was lying on the coffee table?
    If "it" is a magazine article, we might figure this sentence out, but it would be very confusing if "it" is something which might be lying on a coffee table.
    In some magazine, there is a picture of "it" lying on a coffee table.
    In which magazine did you see the dog which was lying on a blanket? Since we don't usually place magazines on blankets, one would assume that this question is about (a photograph of) a dog on a blanket which appears in a magazine.
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