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I confronted with this sentence:

Rainfall was limited and what water there was rushed across the plain in the annual flood of melted snow.

I'm confused with the sentence in bold. Can anyone help explain the structure of that sentence? Thanks!

  • [what water (that) there was] = subject clause; [rushed across the plain in the annual flood of melted snow] = predicate – AmE speaker Feb 9 '17 at 5:25
  • @Clare So there is an attributive clause inside the subject clause? Is it typical in English? – llxxee Feb 9 '17 at 5:40
  • It is not atypical. Consider an average, everyday sentence with a similar structure acting as the direct object: I threw [what garbage (that) there was] into the large trash can. – AmE speaker Feb 9 '17 at 5:42
  • The sentence is fine and well-written. It consists of an independent clause with a passive meaning. The subject is "What water there was", and the predicate is the passive verb phrase "was rushed across the plain in the annual flood of melted snow". "What" is a fused determinative here in the noun phrase "what water". Determinative "what" implies a relatively small amount, so the sentence can be paraphrased as The little water that was available was vigorously pushed across the plain in the annual flood ... – BillJ Feb 9 '17 at 9:07
  • @BillJ If "what water" is used is a noun phrase, then the sentence structure should be "[what water] [(that) there was] rushed across the plain in the annual flood of melted snow" But you said the predicate is the passive verb phrase "was rushed across the plain in the annual flood of melted snow". I'm confused with the passive verb phrase in the predicate (since "was" is already used in "there was"). – llxxee Feb 9 '17 at 9:56
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what water there was = the water which was available, in spite of the limited rainfall. It is the subject in the sentence in bold.

rushed = the verb

across the plain = where it rushed

in the annual flood of melted snow = when it rushed = when the snow melted (i.e. the spring of each year)

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