I have a sentence here:

Software quality assurance is a planned and systematic pattern of all actions necessary to provide adequate confidence that an item or product conforms to established technical requirements.

Did the writer omit a relative pronoun? Could the sentence be written as: "…of all actions which are necessary to provide…" ?

  • That's okay that way as well. For instance, I'm talking about the person (who is) wearing red shoes.
    – Maulik V
    Mar 9, 2014 at 15:58

2 Answers 2


No, the writer did not omit a relative pronoun (and linking verb) and
Yes, the sentence may be written with ... actions which are necessary ...

It is true that many grammarians treat constructions of this sort as you suggest. They call this construction a reduced relative clause—a relative clause from which the relative expression and linking verb have been deleted.

I believe, however, that this is not what is actually happening here, and that your rewrite is not an expansion of the sentence but just a paraphrase of its meaning. There is another way of looking at this which does not involve ellipsis (omission) and which is (in my opinion) the way native speakers actually think of what they are doing. What is involved is a rule that an adjective with a complement must come after the noun it modifies.

For instance, the ordinary position for the adjective necessary would be before the noun it modifies, actions:

Software quality assurance is a planned and systematic pattern of all necessary actions.

In your example, however, the writer wants to expand the thought by explaining what these actions are necessary for. This is accomplished by exploiting the fact that adjectives like necessary and ready and eager behave just like verbs in one respect: they take complements, terms which ‘complete’ the sense:

I am ready. Ready for what? ... I am ready [complementfor dinner].
She is eager. Eager to do what? ... She is eager [complementto leave].
The actions are necessary. Necessary for what? ... The actions are necessary [complementto provide adequate confidence.]

(And by the way: nouns can take complements, too, in the same way:

The actions provide confidence. What kind of confidence ... The actions provide confidence [complementthat an item or product conforms to established technical requirements].)

But in English you are not permitted to put an adjective with a complement in front of the noun it modifies, because that would break the connection between the adjective and the noun:

Software quality assurance is a planned and systematic pattern of all necessary to provide adequate confidence that an item or product conforms to established technical requirements actions.

Consequently, we move the adjective phrase—the adjective with its complement—after the noun, as in your example.

There is further discussion of such postposited adjective phrases here, and a discussion of ellipsis here. And you might be interested in a discussion on linguistics.SE where a poster explains that this rule, and different rules in other languages, are designed to make complicated sentences easier to interpret.

before an utterance marks it as unacceptable.


I completely agree with Stoney, but I'd like to add a few remarks.

Historically, participles (often) and adjectives (sometimes) have always been used after nouns without being part of a relative clause. There is no evidence that this is elliptical.

For that reason, I am not a big fan of this "reduced" and "deleted" that certain branches of Anglo-Saxon linguistics now use. It should be noted that those linguists do not assume true, historical ellipsis or anything like it: it is just a convenient term for them, a metaphor. I quote John Lawler and myself on another question:

By "deletion", are you suggesting that in all these constructions, there was once a "be" that was at some point omitted by speakers/writers? If not, you might want to clarify that, because I don't believe that's what happened. – Cerberus ↵ Jun 17 '13 at 21:22

I thought I had; derivations like this are just a way of linking related constructions, just like Whiz-Deletion acknowledges that the identical semantics and syntax of relative clauses and "absolute constructions" is not a coincidence. They are not intended to show what goes on in the mind of any speaker or writer, because frankly nobody knows that. "Deletion" is a metaphor; one could use "insertion", but then one would have to explain why that chunk got inserted instead of others, so "deletion" is preferable because it indicates that necessary information is not present. – John Lawler ↵ Jun 17 '13 at 21:43

Okay, that's what I expected, but it may suggest an historical process to people, as with the relation between may and the present subjunctive. – Cerberus ↵ Jun 17 '13 at 22:49

Yes, it may suggest a historical process to some people [even though this is not my intention when I use the word deletion]. Grammatical terminology, I've found, can suggest just about anything to some people. Which is no reason no to use it, of course, if it's clear enough to others. I don't feel responsible for what other people have or have not learned; only for what I might teach them. – John Lawler ↵ Oct 26 '13 at 17:28

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