He will support whichever candidate wins. (source)

This sentence strikes me as missing a relative pronoun. I thought it should read:

He will support whichever candidate that wins.

Per relative pronoun rules, I thought "that" can be left out when it is the object of a relative clause, e.g. "Take whichever book you want.", not when it is the subject.

In order to parse the first sentence, I am trying to think of an equivalent for the adjective whichever. Dictionaries have "no matter which", but this substitution seems to work with such sentences as

Whichever (No matter which) job you take, starting out will be hard.

But not with the sentence at issue. So how should I understand the structure of that first sentence? Am I correct in saying it is missing "that"? What would be a working multi-word equivalent for whichever (so that I can better parse such sentences)?

  • Regardless of what's missing or not missing in this sentence, I'd recommend using the relative pronoun who instead of that when referring to people. Oct 1 '18 at 22:14

The original sentence, "He will support whichever candidate wins", is correct. The clause "whichever candidate wins" is a free relative clause generated by the relative determiner "whichever".

The sentence "He will support whichever candidate that wins" is incorrect, because an extra relative pronoun has been inserted where there's no place for it.


"Which" is a relative pronoun: "He will support the candidate which wins". Not the most grammatical choice in this context, but clearly acting as a relative pronoun. "Whichever" retains the relativizer status. See, for instance http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/pronouns/relative-pronoun.html We're just putting the relative pronoun before the noun, rather than between the noun and the verb. So the problem with a multi-word equivalent is that it would be hard to give one without reordering the words: "He will support whichever candidate wins." is equivalent to "He will support the candidate who wins.

  • I get your point, but I don't know if I am convinced. My reservation is that the usage of "whichever" in the sentence at issue is not pronominal but adjectival. In "Take whichever you like better", whichever is pronominal.
    – Eddie Kal
    Oct 2 '18 at 0:15

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