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I saw this sentence on a book

Health can be defined as “[a] state of being associated with freedom from disease and illness that also includes a positive component (wellness) that is associated with a quality of life and positive well-being"

Does the clause "That also includes a positive component that is associated with a quality of life and positive well-being." modify "freedom" or it modifies "illness"?

I think it modifies freedom, but I was taught that relative clause always modify the noun before it, so it really confuses me. Can there be any exceptions?

  • By the way, we say in a book in speaking of the book's contents. – StoneyB Jan 16 at 13:23
  • The relative clause logically modifies "component". "Freedom" is too far away, and it makes sense that there is some positive component that is associated with a quality of life ..." Relative clauses don't always modify the nearest noun: compare "He is one of her colleagues [who is always ready to criticise her]". Here, the nearest noun is the plural "colleagues", but in fact the relative clause modifies "one". – BillJ Jan 16 at 16:06
  • @BillJ thanks for the answer, the relative clause tip is really helpful. But my question concerns about the first 'that' , " that also includes..." – 黃冠霖 Jan 16 at 16:22
  • Yes, of course. It refers to "state of being". – BillJ Jan 16 at 17:43
  • @BillJ What about this sentence? "But his digressive narrative-which sometimes makes use of self-amused listicles-seems suspiciously influenced by styles that are popular on the digital platforms he inveighs against." – 黃冠霖 Jan 17 at 13:38
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The noun which precedes the second relative clause is component (glossed as wellness).

The first relative clause (that also includes...) actually refers to state of being. Identifying this is tricky, because the author is struggling to express a fairly complex proposition in the form of a traditional dictionary definition, and not succeeding very well. The clues are the parallel associateds and the implicit parallel in the term positive—this contrasts with the 'negative' freedom (negative because it denotes an absence).

Parse it this way:

                 associated with freedom from disease and illness [IMPLICITLY 'NEGATIVE']
a state of being
                 that also includes a positive component (wellness)
                                    that is associated with a quality of life and positive well-being

Or paraphrase it this way:

... a state of being which embraces both the absence of disease and illness and the presence of positive well-being and quality of life.

ADDED: The general principle, that a relative clause modifies the immediately preceding nominal, is always subject to the qualification that the modification must be syntactically correct and semantically meaningfully. For instance, a relative with a plural reference can only modify a plural nominal.

In practise, it's always easiest to parse if you set your relative immediately after the nominal it modifies, but in very complicated situations this may not be convenient or even intelligible.

  • Thank you for providing the answer, but I realized I asked the wrong sentence earlier and has been edited. The question should be – 黃冠霖 Jan 16 at 13:02
  • Does the clause "That also includes a positive component that is associated with a quality of life and positive well-being" modify "freedom" or it modifies "illness"? – 黃冠霖 Jan 16 at 13:03
  • @黃冠霖 Neither -- it modifies "state of being", defining a 'positive component' which contrasts with the preceding 'negative' component (negative because it describes an 'absence' of disease and illness). – StoneyB Jan 16 at 13:10
  • Thank you! That makes it understandable. Then "which is " can optionally precede "associated with...... and illness", is this correct? – 黃冠霖 Jan 16 at 13:19
  • @黃冠霖 Yes, though that doesn't solve all the problems with the sentence! See my suggested paraphrase. – StoneyB Jan 16 at 13:22

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