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I have a question about the meaning of a relative clause :

  1. In the room were ten people, three of them looking tired, who were seated near a table.

Does the relative clause "who were seated near table" apply to all ten people, or just the three tired looking people?

Sub-question:

I have a second question about the meaning of a different but similar relative clause :

  1. In the room were ten adults, three of them each holding the hands of two small children, who were seated near a table.

In example 2, does the relative clause "who were seated near table" apply only to the small children?

  • 1
    It applies to all ten. You would cast the sentence differently if you wanted to specify that only the tired ones were seated near a table. E.g., "In the room were ten people; three of them, looking tired, were seated near a table." – Robusto Aug 22 '17 at 3:17
  • @Robusto What if the original is modified liked this: "In the room were ten people, three of them each holding the hands of two small children, who were seated near a table." – meatie Aug 22 '17 at 13:52
  • That would only make it ambiguous. – Robusto Aug 22 '17 at 17:36
1

This sentence uses a parenthetical element (three of them looking tired), which adds more information to the sentence.

The relative clause is referring to the ten people. The three tired people are simply a part of that group, and the whole group is sitting near a table.

You can always simplify a sentence by omitting a parenthetical element:

In the room were ten people who were seated near a table.

The relative clause still refers to the ten people.

  • What if the original is modified liked this: "In the room were ten people, three of them each holding the hands of two small children, who were seated near a table." – meatie Aug 22 '17 at 13:53
  • @meatie It refers to the ten people. I don't see any other reason for the comma being there if it specifically refers to the six children. – Kman3 Aug 22 '17 at 14:42
1

This is much the same question you asked yesterday.

In the room were ten people, three of them looking tired, who were seated near a table.

three of them looking tired is disjunct, a parenthetic remark, and thus all ten people are seated:

In the room were ten people who were seated near a table, three of them looking tired.

If only the three tired-looking ones were seated and the remainder standing:

In the room were ten people, three of whom, looking tired, were seated near a table.

That sentence can be recast as two independent clauses.

In the room were ten people and three of them, looking tired, were seated near a table.

In the room were ten adults, three of them each holding the hands of two small children, who were seated near a table.

Ignoring the logistical issues of the furniture, the relative clause who were seated near a table could attach to "two small children" or to "ten adults".

We normally use semantics to decide (or rewrite in such a way as to avoid ambiguity).

What not to do:

In the room were ten adults, three of them each holding the hands of two small children, who were smoking cigars.

In the room were ten adults, three of them each holding the hands of two small children, who had pissed their pants.

  • I edited my original question. I added a second example sentence. Could you offer your opinion on this sentence 2? Thanks! – meatie Aug 22 '17 at 15:52
  • These examples affect me worse than scratching fingernails on a blackboard. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 22 '17 at 18:04
  • So, sentence 2 in my original post is poorly written and should never be used? – meatie Aug 22 '17 at 19:07
  • @meatie: You should place your relative clauses and adjuncts as close as possible to the nouns they belong with. The examples above (who were smoking cigars, who had pissed their pants) are meant to be examples of what not to do. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 22 '17 at 21:36

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