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Consider the following sentence:

Certain gram positive bacteria can be associated with oil glands that play a role in acne and skin disease.

I'm wondering what does the word that refer to. Is it 'oil glands' or 'certain gram positive bacteria'?

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it refers to oil glands. –  hunter Apr 11 at 8:05
    
Oil glands. That cannot refer to bacteria in this case, then the sentence would be incomplete at the end, and the "can be associated with oil glands" would be impossible to parse. –  oerkelens Apr 11 at 8:05
    
It is quite possible that the original sentence was wrong, and that this is what was intended: Certain gram positive bacteria can be associated with oil glands and play a role in acne and skin disease. I come across this kind of error all the time in sloppy scientific writing. –  Merk Apr 11 at 17:57

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

It is 'oil glands'.

The word order makes it quite clear.

[...] the glands that [...]

If it were the other way around the sentence would have to be:

Certain bacteria that play a role in acne and skin disease are associated with oily glands.

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What about that person is one of the brave soldiers who dies for their country -very interesting discussion happened over this. –  Maulik V Apr 11 at 10:00
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@MaulikV That that is a different word. –  snailboat Apr 11 at 11:33
    
"that person is one of the brave soldiers who dies for their country" ... This would be resolved by using the proper plural verb. "That person is one of the brave soldiers who die for their country". In any case all people in questions have died for their country so the qualification applies to them all. Grammatically though it should belong to the latter, clearly. –  Christian Benesch Apr 11 at 15:04

"That" here , is a relative pronoun referring to "oil glands". We can use "that"here instead of of the relative pronoun "which"."Certain gram positive bacteria can be associated with oil glands that** play a role in acne and skin disease."

instead of , "Certain gram positive bacteria can be associated with oil glands which play a role in acne and skin disease."

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I think it is Oil glands. It can't be bacteria again

In this case, that is used as a function word after and to indicate emphatic repetition of the idea expressed by a previous word or phrase.

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Please, could you explain why you think it's oil glands or why it can't be bacteria? –  Nico Apr 11 at 13:18
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To expand on the previous comments: ELL (and the Stack Exchange network in general) is based on the idea of questions and answers that will be useful to future visitors. Sometime a year from now, or ten years, someone may be trying to figure out the different senses for "that". When they're looking, they will need facts. As it stands, your answer contains only an opinion. Consider editing your answer to expand on why "that" applies to the glands. This would make it far more useful to future readers. –  Jonathan Garber Apr 11 at 14:37
    
Thanks @Jonathan. –  lnanikian Apr 13 at 7:47

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