Subordinating conjunctions vs. Relative pronouns/adverbs

Discussion in 'English Only' started by fishmb, Dec 3, 2009.

  1. fishmb New Member

    Istanbul, Turkey
    English - American
    To my understanding, relative pronouns and relative adverbs, in relative clauses, serve a similar function to subordinating conjunctions in other types of clauses.

    According to my "Grammar for English Language Teachers" book by Martin Parrott, in the sentence "Is this the room where the murder happend?" 'where' acts as a relative pronoun (and some people would call it a relative adverb). (p. 354)

    In a different section of the book (p. 423) subordinating conjunctions are discussed says that 'where' is a subordinating conjunction in the sentence "He wanted to stay where he had always lived."

    My question: why is it 'where' a subordinating conjunction in the second sentence, but a relative pronoun/adverb in the first sentence?

    Are relative pronouns/adverbs simply types of subordinating conjunctions??
  2. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    Yes, they are simply types of subordinating conjunctions.

    I assume that the author of your book called "where" a subordinating conjunction in one place and a relative pronoun/adverb in the other according to the topic being discussed.

    Here is a list of subordinating conjunctions that includes relative pronouns and adverbs, along with words like now, as if, and because (
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2009
  3. fishmb New Member

    Istanbul, Turkey
    English - American
    Thanks for the reply. So my follow up question is when can you specifically call words like "when, where, why" relative adverbs and when do you call them subordinating conjunctions?

    For example, in the website you linked to they use the sentence "That is the place where he was last seen." as an example of an adjective clause introduced by a subordinating conjunction. More specifically, you could say it's a relative clause introduced by a relative adverb. BUT.

    What if you take out 'the place' and make the sentence "That is where he was last seen." Is it still an adjectival clause or has in changed into a noun clause since it now operates as a direct object?? And, if so, can we still call 'where' a relative adverb, or must be call it something else - or something less specific (like a subordinating conjunction)??
  4. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    In the first sentence, containing 'the room where', the word 'where' is linked to an antecedent noun phrase, 'the room'. That's what makes it an ordinary relative marker. In the second sentence, containing 'stay where', the 'where' has no antecedent. The clause 'where he had always lived' completely specifies the place: so this is not a relative clause (or at least not the most basic kind).

    In traditional terminology the first is an adverb, and the second is not a relative, since there is no antecedent, so the catch-all term 'conjunction' is used.

    The CGEL (Cambridge Grammar) would categorize the second as a fused relative (if I have this right): it's equivalent to a head word such as 'place' and a relative clause linked to it, but instead of a separate noun head, the head function is fused into the 'where' of the relative (i.e. 'where he had lived' = 'the place where he had lived').

    The CGEL scraps the conjunction class and reduces the adverb class: the word 'where' is a preposition, and it can be either a relative marker (in 'the room where') or the head of a fused relative preposition phrase (the location after 'stay' - there is no direct object in that sentence).
  5. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I like to make a distinction between identifying the part of speech and its function. For one thing, where is still acting as an adverb in its clause, even as it also functions as a conjunction.
    In this sentence, where is a relative adverb functioning as a subordinating conjunction.
    It is tedious, but it avoids even more tedious arguments about what where 'really' is.

    [Edit: entangledbank has given a better answer to the second question, so I removed mine.]
  6. fishmb New Member

    Istanbul, Turkey
    English - American
    Wait, so the new grammar books are calling "where" a preposition? Do you know where on the web I could get more updated grammar information like this? They really completely stop using the term "conjunction" ??

    Your comment about the fused relative makes a lot of sense to me and I like that term. What type of clauses can fused relative introduce?
  7. iconoclast Senior Member

    english - anglo-irish
    Thanks to entangledbank for pointing out the CGEL. I've just scanned through the two sample chapters, and it seems to be standard post-Chomskyan fare.

    I believe that fishmb's confusion derives partly from the level at which one is operating. CGEL's more technically (but by no means full-blown) linguistic level of operation cuts through a lot of the "traditional" grammar explanation proffered in English courses (where by traditional I don't mean only the old-fashioned prescriptive menu, but also a more enlightened functionalist approach such as I adopt in my EFL classes), for syntax is but one of the many concerns occupying a teacher.

    Thus, at the latter level adjective, adverb, and noun clauses continue to be alive and well, while at the CGEL level they are more realistically dealt with. However, p'raps that's as it should be, for an EFL/ESOL teacher's primary concern is to get students to use language appropriately, not to ruminate on its structure and organisation, which, after all, is just what the overwhelming majority of native speakers do.
  8. fishmb New Member

    Istanbul, Turkey
    English - American
    I agree the teacher shouldn't confuse students with this terminology, but I wasn't asking what I should teach my students. I'm asking because I'm trying to sort it out for my personal benefit. And I believe that if a teacher has a solid theoretical understanding s/he will be a better teacher.

    What would any of you say some of the primary differences are between the 'CGEL' method and the 'traditional' method, and which of the terms that we've been bandying about is a CGEL term and which is a traditional term?
  9. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    Moderator note:

    This is not a forum for discussing teaching methods. Please keep answers on-topic.

  10. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I think "fused relative" is fairly traditional, or at least fairly widespread - see this thread for example: fused relative.
  11. gorm_den_gamle New Member

    This thread is getting old. I haven't read Parrott very deeply on the topic quite yet, but I found this page when trying to understand Oshima & Hogue's section on complex sentences, p172, in which they put complex sentences into three categories: those with adverb clauses, adjective clauses and noun clauses. The problem which the original poster seems to be focusing on is the middle category, complex sentences with adjective clauses, in which Oshima & Hogue say "An adjective clause begins with a relative pronoun, such as who, whom, which, whose, or that, or with a relative adverb, such as where or when. It follows the noun or pronoun it describes."

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