I learned that in relative clauses, the relative pronoun acts as a subject or an object or a complement.

Red is the color which we painted the wall.

Is this sentence grammatical?
Paint is a verb that should be followed by a object and a complement, so I think red act as a complement in this relative clause, therefore the sentence should make sense. Is that right?

The teacher doesn't like the student whom we elected class president.

Elected is a verb that should be followed by two objects, so in this clause, even though we have one object class president already, one object is still missing , and whom represents the missing object, is that right?

This is a lesson which the students are eager to learn.

I am slightly confused with this one, inside the relative clause
Subject : the students , verb : are , complement(adj) : eager
to learn acts as an adverb to modfiy the complement(adj) eager,
so the clause itself seems complete already, so what does the relative pronoun which represents here ?

1 Answer 1


Which points to the complement (more precisely, the direct object) of to learn: The students are eager to learn [this lesson]. To learn [this lesson] is the complement of the adjective eager.

(Yes, adjectives have complements too!)

Here's a tree diagram which illustrates the complexity of the structure:

enter image description here

Which refers backward to a lesson and forward to the missing object of learn. Students is the implicit subject of the infinitival clause which is the complement of the adjective eager.

  • Thanks, I didn't know adjective have complements too, I used to think it should be an adverb. And for the first and second sentence, are my knowledge correct?
    – Frank
    Feb 19, 2019 at 16:32
  • @Kathy Yes, your first two parses are correct, except that technically class president is an object complement rather than an object. Feb 19, 2019 at 17:00
  • So inside the complement “to learn this lesson” there is another complement, which is “ this lesson”, then the clause sentence structure would go like S+V+C+C+C, is that legit ?
    – Frank
    Feb 20, 2019 at 1:01
  • 1
    @Kathy It's a bit more complicated than that. I've added a diagram from Miles Shang's website, based on this bracketed notation: [CLAUSE [SUBJECT [np This]] [PREDICATE [v is] [COMPLEMENT [np [^dp a lesson<a>] [RELATIVECLAUSE [RELATIVIZER_a which][CLAUSE [SUBJECT [np students<b>][PREDICATE [v are][COMPLEMENT [ap [adj eager][COMPLEMENT [INFINITIVALCLAUSE [SUBJECT_b (__)] [PREDICATE [^v to learn][OBJECT [np ___ <a>]]]]]]]]]] Feb 20, 2019 at 15:28

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