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Is this sentence correct with respect to the parts in italics? Is there a better way of saying it?

  1. The only person who I know of who speaks English fairly well is my cousin.

Here I have two relative clauses that modify the same noun (person). Is that valid in English? Also does the ordering matter here? I think if I make it

  1. The only person who speaks English fairly well who I know of is my cousin.

the meaning might change.

Are there any rules concerning the place of the modifiers in places such as this one or is it simply an instinct?

  • I edited your question, deviating slightly from the original meaning. I hope you're still happy with it, but if not, feel free to edit it. Note that we don't do proofreading here, but asking whether a part of a sentence sounds natural or whether it's best rephrased is fine. Great first question, by the way. – userr2684291 Sep 7 '18 at 20:14
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It's absolutely valid - although if you find yourself piling up too many relative clauses on top of each other, it's probably best to rewrite the sentence so that it doesn't get too wordy.

In general, the order of relative clauses does matter - the one closer to the main clause modifies the main clause, and the one separated from the main clause modifies both the main clause and the first relative clause. Consider the following two sentences:

Bill was the only one who took part in the robbery who got arrested.

Bill was the only one who got arrested who took part in the robbery.

In the first sentence, multiple people have taken part in the robbery, but out of them only Bill got arrested. In the second sentence, multiple people got arrested, but Bill was the only one who actually took part in the robbery.

In your example there's much less of a difference, as "out of all the people I know of, my cousin is the only one who speaks English well" and "out of all the people who speak English well, the only one I know of is my cousin" are more or less interchangeable statements. Still, depending on whether the context is "people you know of" or "people who speak English well", you may opt for one or the other.

  • I don't think I actually understand the difference between your two sentences. They both have the same meaning to me. – F0rg1v3n Sep 8 '18 at 8:04
  • Note the distinction between people you know (those you personally are acquainted with) and people you know of (those who have come to your attention). – Ronald Sole Sep 8 '18 at 13:47
  • @F0rg1v3n the first sentence claims that there are people who took part in the robbery and didn't get arrested. The other claims there are people who got arrested and didn't take part in the robbery. Not sure if anything else is unclear? – Maciej Stachowski Sep 8 '18 at 14:48
  • @RonaldSole yep, edited. – Maciej Stachowski Sep 8 '18 at 14:49
  • @MaciejStachowski Apols. My comment belonged under the question! – Ronald Sole Sep 8 '18 at 15:54

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