She is supposed to be overconfident, which will erase her anxiety.

It is correct to use a complete clause as a noun, which can have a relative clause?

And is the sentence correct, regardless of the question? And please explain it.

  • 3
    I'd say that "which" refers to "overconfident". We understand that her overconfidence will erase her anxiety (whatever that means!)
    – BillJ
    Jun 11, 2017 at 7:12
  • Thanks BillJ, but can an adjective/adjectives have a relative clause? Is there any reference regarding this rule? I thought relative pronoun and relative clause only referred to a noun, noun phrase and object pronoun. Jun 11, 2017 at 11:11
  • 3
    Non-defining relative clauses like the one in your example can have virtually anything as antecedent, not just noun phrases,
    – BillJ
    Jun 11, 2017 at 11:33
  • 1
    Chaesar, I wouldn't say that we are "using a complete clause as a noun" when we have a non-defining relative clause refer vaguely back to it or to one of the things it expresses: She is said to have left town in a hurry, which makes me wonder. We don't know if she left town in a hurry, or if I know that she is still in town, and I'm wondering about the reliability of those who say she left.
    – TimR
    Jun 11, 2017 at 14:57

1 Answer 1


Certainly a whole clause can be the subject of "which":

He's unpredictable, which means he's a brilliant chess player.

This is enabled both by the fact that whole clauses can sometimes function as nouns and the fact that "which" is very forgiving and can pick out pretty much anything that comes before it as an antecedent, at least in casual conversation. (Which is a common concession.)

Your sentence is grammatically fine. However, I wouldn't say that "which" here refers to the whole previous clause, because the thing that "will erase her anxiety" is being overconfident — not the fact that she's supposed to be overconfident.

She's supposed to be overconfident. Being overconfident will erase her anxiety.

Notice that this exact phrase doesn't even occur in the first half of the sentence. The takeaway is that you shouldn't be surprised to find "which" referring to almost anything, even something implicit.

One reference is on Wikipedia's "antecedent" article (unfortunately the individual section is unsourced):

h. Susan lies all the time, which everybody knows about. - Entire clause as antecedent

i. Our politicians have been pandering again. This demotivates the voters. - Entire sentence as antecedent

  • Thanks Luke, is there any reference regarding the explanation? I thought relative clause and relative pronoun were specifically associated with noun phrases. Jun 11, 2017 at 13:03
  • @ChaesarIbrani Added a quick Wiki link, will dig up more if needed. Jun 11, 2017 at 13:32
  • Subordinate clauses can be used as noun phrases (complements); normally these are subjects or objects, but they can fill any noun slot, and have any normal noun attributes. Jun 11, 2017 at 15:01
  • @JohnLawler Indeed; altered wording to avoid suggesting uncertainty on this point. Jun 11, 2017 at 19:08

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