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In some constructions, I can see that it leads to issues--referring to a word or phrase that comes before the word or phrase "which" or "who" directly precedes.

The mother of Gerald, whose parents had been poor, was tired.

Here, the unessential info could be attributed to Gerald instead of his mother, who it is actually about.

Gerald's mother, whose parents had been poor, was tired.

That issue does not exist in this construction.

In other cases, especially when there is context to help, it would be very difficult to misidentify the referent.

In these cases, are constructions in which the referent comes first, removed from the pronoun that refers to it, considered awkward, wrong, or bad?

For example:

They brought back with them a small cat from Egypt, who was shy but alert.

As opposed to:

They brought back with them a small cat, who was shy but alert, from Egypt.

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    Syntactically, it's true that the "unessential info" (having poor parents) could be attributed to Gerald, instead of his mother. But semantically / logically, that wouldn't make sense, since the mother is one of Gerald's parents. Thus there's no scope for ambiguity with that particular example, but there could be with, say, The uncle of Gerald, whose wife had died (where either the uncle, or Gerald himself, could be the widower). Aug 8, 2019 at 13:52

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There is nothing wrong with a construction such as

They brought back with them a small cat from Egypt, who was shy but alert.

(well except that some pedants would object to "who" being used for a cat, rather than a human.) One could regard the antecedent of "who" as the phrasal noun "a small cat from Egypt". In this construction there is no plausible confusion, as "Egypt" would not be described as "shy but alert".

In the earlier example

The mother of Gerald, whose parents had been poor, was tired.

There is ambiguity, and the construction is in any case awkward and should be avoided.

In general a relative pronoun can have an antecedent that does not come immediately before the pronoun, provided that the intended meaning is clear. When the construction is ambiguous, it should normally be recast to avoid ambiguity (unless the ambiguity is intended, but a learner should avoid that).

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  • Can I use which in this way: "Values of MAE and RMSE obtained for the validation phase are similar, which confirms the method is robust." Is the phrasal noun the entire first clause "Values of MAE and RMSE obtained for the validation phase are similar"? Or is more "which fact", with "fact" understood?
    – Millemila
    Dec 30, 2020 at 3:38
  • @Millemila Not quite. The phrasal noun would be "Values of MAE and RMSE obtained for the validation phase" and that is the subject of "are similar". I would also prefer "which confirms that the method is robust". The antecedent of "which" is the entire preceding clause, noun phrase+verb phrase. I would not think of it as reduced from "which fact". Dec 30, 2020 at 5:05
  • But it is not what I am saying. it is the whole clause "Values of MAE and RMSE obtained for the validation phase are similar" that confirms the method is robust. "are similar" is part of the main point I am making, without it makes no sense
    – Millemila
    Dec 30, 2020 at 13:18
  • I wrote the question here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/547650/… feel free to answer
    – Millemila
    Dec 30, 2020 at 13:20

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