'why' as a fused relative word

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JungKim

Senior Member
Korean
A BBC reporter, Melissa Hogenboom, talks about her father in this BBC article "The part of my dad that dementia can't take":
My dad does not fall into any of the risk categories for dementia. There is no family history of it. He’s always been slim, healthy and active. This is part of why the disease is so devastating – it can affect anyone and we still do not understand why.
Is this 'why' a fused relative word?
 
  • Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    I’m afraid I don’t know what grammatical categories you use. I simply looked up the definition of fused relative clause and took the view that it doesn’t correspond to this example.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    Interrogative "why" is concerned with the fact of having the correct answer to the question why; the answer is an end in itself.

    Fused-relative "why" is concerned with the content of the reason.

    Why is dementia devastating? I can think of several possible reasons:
    - it destroys a person's mind and hence his identity
    - it is expensive to care for such a person
    - it strikes unpredictably - e.g. someone with no family history of the disease


    Part of [the reason] why it is devastating is its unpredictability. And it is precisely its unpredictability that is the subject of her lament.

    I take this, then, as a fused relative. Generally "why" is ungrammatical as a fused relative (e.g. "%I hate why he's sick") and indeed this example is, I think, only marginally grammatical, and should more properly be rendered as a relative clause "This is part of the reason why the disease is so devastating...".
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    Thanks for the analysis.
    I too think it's a fused relative.
    But about "why" is "generally" ungrammatical as a fused relative, I'm not so sure.
    For one thing, ?I hate the reason why he's sick sounds as awful at least to my ears as ?I hate why he's sick.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    CGEL p1077
    "Why" .. is marginally possible in the pseudo-cleft:
    Why I'm leaving is that/because there's no opportunity to use any initiative.
    It does not occur elsewhere in fused relatives.


    Pullum 2009 came up with a possible counter-example:
    I was suspicious about why he did it.
    .. which at least appears more grammatical than "part of why".

    Being able to replace "why" with "the reason why" is not sufficient to qualify it as a fused relative, since that is equally true of interrogative "why" in "I know why he did it".
     
    Last edited:

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Why functioning as relative pronoun takes as antecedent "the reason."
    The reason why is felt by some to be redundant, so "why" or "the reason" is often omitted, as is the case in This is part of why the disease is so devastating (-->This is part of the reason the disease is so devastating ~ This is part of the reason why the disease is so devastating).

    As for "labels," the OP example why the disease is so devastating becomes a headless/free relative clause, with "why" as a fused relative; i.e., there's no antecedent for "why," but it's understood that the antecedent of "why" is encoded in the word itself, given that "why" means "the reason why."
     

    JungKim

    Senior Member
    Korean
    CGEL p1077
    "Why" .. is marginally possible in the pseudo-cleft:
    Why I'm leaving is that/because there's no opportunity to use any initiative.
    It does not occur elsewhere in fused relatives.
    I'm aware of that blanket statement from CGEL, which is part of the reason I asked this question in the first place, especially considering the productiveness of this phrase 'part of why', which I honestly cannot figure out without analyzing as a fused relative construction.

    Pullum 2009 came up with a possible counter-example:
    I was suspicious about why he did it.
    .. which at least appears more grammatical than "part of why".
    Thanks for this counter-example, which I take to sort of disprove CGEL's blanket statement.

    Being able to replace "why" with "the reason why" is not sufficient to qualify it as a fused relative, since that is equally true of interrogative "why" in "I know why he did it".
    Agreed.
    "I know why he did it" is different in syntax from "I know the reason why he did it."
    But I thought you presented "I hate why he's sick" as an unnatural example of a fused relative construction. So, I just wanted to point out that replacing "why" there with "the reason why" wouldn't make it any better to my ears.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    I'm aware of that blanket statement from CGEL, which is part of the reason I asked this question in the first place, especially considering the productiveness of this phrase 'part of why'
    I am surprised at the broad acceptance of "part of why", which seems to have taken off since 1970. In light of this, I don't think it can be considered grammatically substandard. I might even start using it myself. Occasionally it can be glossed "partly why", but many of the examples look to me like genuine fused relatives. I also had a look at Pullum's "suspicious about why" and satisfied myself that these were mostly bona fide fused relatives too.

    I see your suggestion had an unsympathetic reception at stackexchange. You might want to email G Pullum at languagelog and ask his opinion.
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    :thumbsdown:I hate why he's sick.
    :thumbsup:I hate the reason why he's sick. (He was willfully overindulging, engaging in dangerous behavior.)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    :thumbsdown:I hate why he's sick.
    :thumbsup:I hate the reason why he's sick. (He was willfully overindulging, engaging in dangerous behavior.)
    It's an unusual sentiment, in my opinion, and it allows you to love the fact that he's sick while hating the reason. ;)
     
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