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The core stone is the information center of the new computer, which is envied by a lot of competitors of Carl's company.

In this sentence, can "which" indicate the phrase "information center"? It is normally to use "which" to indicate a noun, but as for a phrase, I am not sure.

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    I think it refers to the entire noun phrase "the information center of the new computer". – user178049 Apr 17 '17 at 14:58
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"Which" is a relative pronoun. It links the modifying clause following it to the preceding noun or noun phrase. In this case the noun phrase is "the information center of the new computer". The sentence is grammatical and standard English.

  • I'm certainly not going to contradict you, it's your language after all :). Though, I don't get why it doesn't refer to the entire sentence as in Usage Note of the relative pronoun which: The relative pronoun which can sometimes refer to a clause or sentence, as opposed to a noun phrase: She ignored him, which proved to be unwise. – Lucian Sava Apr 17 '17 at 15:25
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    One point to bear in mind: supplementary (non-restrictive) relative clauses are not modifiers, but supplements that simply add useful but non-essential information. – BillJ Apr 17 '17 at 17:01
  • @LucianSava In the particular example, it could be either way. But it makes more sense (to me) for the competitors to envy the information center, instead of envying the core stone being the information center. As BillJ says the clause is non-restrictive. The punctuation (or in speech, the tonal envelope and pauses) are significant in understanding the meaning of the clause. – James K Apr 17 '17 at 17:16
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Yes, a relative clause can modify a whole sentence.

"The cake was burned, which made me angry." (English relative clauses # Overview - 10th item in the list)

Strictly speaking, cake is the head noun of the noun phrase, which is modified: "The burned cake made me angry."

Analytic interpretation gives the preceding phrase "was burned" is to be modified by the relative clause, though, and clearly, the burn (or burning for friends of the gerund) is the culprit, the cake's burn, to be specific, so we could say: "the cake burn made me angry". Now, because the interpretations are equal in meaning, we just say the whole sentence is modified, for simplicities sake. And rightfully so, because "is" marks an equality.

(Edit: In that sense "which" indeed modified the whole phrase. Because of the equivalence relation "to be", each noun entails the other. This equivalence is "envied".)

The comma is a different issue. It is needed, because the relative clause is non-restrictive (see at the link given above). In another interpretation which is my own opinion the comma is needed precisely to signal the whole phrase as referent.

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I will give a slightly different interpretation, because language is inherently ambiguous and subject to interpretation.

This use of "which" introduces a free relative clause. In this way it is also called an embedded question. You can read it as such:

The [noun 1] is a [noun 2]. The [noun 1 or 2] is what [predicate].

... The core stone is what is envied.

In that sense, it is a fused relative clause. The comma is only needed to set off the enumeration. "that which is ..." is also used instead of "what or which". I wouldn't know the difference.

The [noun 1] is a [noun 2] and it is that which is ...

Of course, because of the first clause, noun 1 now entails noun 2, so even in that sense, the relative clause applies to noun 1, noun 2 and even the whole sentence.

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