A line in the movie Southpaw goes:

Judge: And I order said child remanded into the care of the Family Services, until which time the father can demonstrate the abilities to perform duties of a responsible parent. (A YouTube clip of this scene)

Besides sounding lawyerly, this sentence grates a bit with its "until which time". If which is a relative pronoun, it seems missing its antecedent. Shouldn't it be "until a time"? Almost all of the hits on Google Books of "until which time" are over 150 years old. Is this sentence grammatical to begin with? If yes, how should it be parsed?

  • It's legal-ese. – Lorel C. May 24 '19 at 1:16
  • Are you sure you quoted that sentence verbatim? It would be more natural to say care of Family Services (not the Family Services), demonstrate the ability (not abilities), and to perform the duties of. – Jason Bassford May 24 '19 at 13:14
  • @JasonBassford Yes, absolutely positive. Here is a YouTube clip. The first time I watched it, I also felt I would be happier with "the care of Family Services", but I assumed the judge is talking about a specific facility that already has the child's custody. I also felt the same way about ability, a word that for the most part is a non-count noun. "to perform duties of a responsible parent didn't sound as jarring though. I thought either way would make sense. – Eddie Kal May 24 '19 at 13:34
  • Strange. I would add that link to the question itself. – Jason Bassford May 24 '19 at 15:28

In this case, "which" is being used as a determiner. "Which", like the other interrogative determiners "what" and "whose", is mostly used in questions, since they ask a question:

  • Which book should I read?

and can be used after prepositions or conjunctions:

  • At which time did he come?
  • On which platform is she standing?
  • You can see us from which window?

It is not common nowadays to use a phrase like this, with interrogative determiners in a statement, outside of legal jargon, however the format can be found in older examples. Nowadays, one would simply either

  1. use "the" or "a",
  2. use a preposition or conjunction instead,
  3. use a relative pronoun if you are specifying, or
  4. use "whichever", "whatever" or "whoever's" if not.


  • You should read which book you desire.


  • You should read whichever book you desire.
  • You should read the book you desire


  • He came at which time the bell rang five.


  • He came when the bell rang five.
  • He came at the time the bell rang five.


  • She is standing on which platform the old beggar sings.


  • She is standing on the platform where the old beggar sings.


  • I can see you from which window the banner is hung.


  • I can see you from the window the banner is hung.
  • I can see you from the window where the banner is hung.

In this case, you can parse the full sentence to say:

Judge: And I order the mentioned child to be remanded into the care of Family Services, until the time the father can demonstrate the abilities to perform the duties of a responsible parent.

| improve this answer | |
  • N.B. I left "abilities" since although it is generally a non-count noun, using it in plurality seems to indicate specific criteria or number of things the person in question should be found able to perform, hence "multiple abilities in order to perform said duties", rather than "the ability to perform said duties" – Stephen Waldron May 24 '19 at 23:05

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