Subordinate clause: for whatever complaints

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Senior Member
We were having our English class yesterday and our teacher gave us a series of activities. All were about clauses. We checked the papers and got our scores but I'm having several doubts.

<< question placed in separate thread >>

The session was for whatever complaints people wanted to air, and the supervisors heard quite an assortment.
In this part, we were going to tell the kind of sentence according to structure. My answer was compound-complex but she disagreed saying that it was only a compound sentence. She agreed that the "whatever complaints ... air," part was a subordinate clause but it only functions, according to her, as a predicate nominative and thus, nothing more but a part of the first independent clause.
If I were to divide the first part of the sentence to two clauses, they would be:
-The session was for [whatever] complaints.
-whatever complaints people wanted to air.
I think, "whatever complaints" is the direct object of the verb "wanted to air" whose doer is "people" but this does not make sense to her. Can you please make things clear to me.

Thanks a lot!

<< Moderator's note: original thread has been split into two, one for each question. The other thread is: Subordinate clause: the man to whom >>
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  • Oeco

    Senior Member
    English - US
    << response to first question on other thread >>

    On the second example, I don't understand the teacher's point about predicate nominative. There is no expressed equality between session and complaints.

    "Complaints" is an object of the preposition. To have a direct object, the sentence would need a transitive verb that expressed some action. The verb "to be" (was) is intransitive.
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    Senior Member
    Indeed, it is the object of the preposition "for." But what I was talking about is its other function. I no longer think that way though.

    Here's the new idea:
    I know now that "whatever" is not a relative pronoun but functipns only as an adjective modifying "complaints." I think that THERE is an invisible relative pronoun between "complaints" and "people."

    The session is for whatever complaints that people wanted to air.

    If we convert it to an independent sentence:
    -People wanted to air "that."
    "That" is relative to "complaints" and is the direct object of the verb "wanted to air."

    So, I still think that the sentence is compound complex.


    Senior Member
    Yes, it is a compound-complex sentence because it has two independent clauses and one of those contains a dependent clause. The dependent clause is used as a noun in the first clause of the compound.

    That dependent clause begins with a relative adjective whatever. Within the relative clause, whatever modifies complaints, and the noun phrase whatever complaints is the direct object of the infinitive to air. People wanted to air these complaints.

    In my opinion, an added that is not really appropriate here, though if the sentence had the instead of whatever, the added that would make sense.

    Observe that whatever place and wherever can serve the same function. In other words, a noun phrase with a relative adjective works like a relative pronoun, and a second relative word seems inappropriate in the same clause:

    He climbed to whatever place was reachable. = He climbed to wherever was reachable. [not "whatever place that" or "wherever that"]

    A noun phrase with a relative adjective can also act as a subject within its clause:

    The session was for whatever complaints presented themselves. [not "whatever complaints that"]

    Perhaps combination relatives like "wheresoever that" are not really wrong, but I prefer not to add an extra that because the relative clause is complete without it.

    I hope this makes sense.


    Senior Member
    Thanks for the reply!

    Well, I believe all of what you've said and there's no doubt that it is a compound-complex sentence. I was thinking of how I could convince my professor but now I guess, I'll let her win. I understand that I am in no position to correct her. I am not saying that I am a brilliant student but I believe I understand English grammar better than she does. (That sounds arrogant :D, forgive me.)

    Once more, thanks!


    Senior Member
    The object of for must be functioning as a noun, though it contains a finite verb wanted. That makes it a subordinate clause.

    Does the teacher see wanted as a participle?


    Senior Member
    I don't quite get what you mean.

    The way I understand your previous explanation, the subordinate clause is an adjective clause because of the relative adjective "whatever." From that, we could say that the object of the preposition "for" is "complaints" having the whole clause as its adjective.

    I don't know whether she saw "wanted" as a participle but I think she didn't pay much attention to that word.

    When we were arguing about it, what we did was examine the sentence's pattern.
    She wrote on the board:
    S (subject) + LV (linking verb) + PN (predicate nominative)
    S = the session
    LV = was
    PN = for whatever complaints people wanted to air

    She was asking me what else I could add to the pattern to tell what the clause is in the sentence. I couldn't answer her, thus, unabling me to prove that it really is a subordinate clause. She thought that the clause should have a significant part in the sentence... something we could add to the pattern above. Because we couldn't prove that it is subordinate clause, she concluded that the sentence is a only a compound sentence and I know that it's a logical fallacy since she didn't point out anything that would disqualify it as a subordinate clause.

    If I were given more time to think about it, I would have told that we should not base it on the sentence pattern or whatsoever. She should have thought that most of the clauses we identified in our seatworks back there were adverb clauses and these sentence patterns never mentioned anything about adverb clauses as far as I remember neither adverb nor clauses in general. I think it was not appropriate to talk about sentence patterns since we were dealing with classification of sentences according to structure.


    Senior Member
    Even if we imagine that for begins a noun phrase, as if "people wanted to air for [whatever] complaints" made sense somehow, the fact remains that there is a finite verb wanted within the phrase, so the phrase is a clause.

    The word whatever is the subordinating word. It is not a coordinating conjunction or a correlating conjunction but a relative word, a kind of subordinator, so we have a subordinate clause.

    In this case, I take the phrase beginning with for as a complement for the subject, like good in "The session was good." Even if you take was to mean "existed", which takes some imagination, and you call the for phrase adverbial, modifying was, like because of the complaints in "The session existed because of the complaints", it is still a modifier, not a predicate noun phrase, nominative or otherwise.

    Either way, the prepositional phrase beginning with for has a noun clause as its object. In the noun clause, the subordinating word whatever functions as an adjective modifying complaints.

    I call this whatever a relative adjective because it functions as a subordinator in the larger clause and as an adjective in the clause that it subordinates.

    A relative pronoun functions as a pronoun in the clause it subordinates. Whom, for example, is a relative pronoun that functions as an object within a clause that it subordinates. Similarly, a relative adverb like where functions as an adverb in the clause that it subordinates, regardless of the function of the subordinated clause in the larger context:

    I climbed up to where the air is clear.
    I climbed up to [noun clause]; [noun clause] = "The air is clear [where]"; where is a relative adverb (= "in [which] place").
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