1. How many people are there that the Joker is not the reason for them knowing who Joaquin Pheonix is.

1 sounds unnatural.

  1. How many people are there whose reason for them knowing who Joaquin Pheonix is not the Joker.

2 seems natural.

Is 1 correct? If not, then why?

  • It's a hard question to answer because both of your example sentences are awkward. (I'd probably word as: How many people know who Joaquin Pheonix is because of the Joker?) You might want to rephrase your question about that vs. whose with a better pair of example sentences.
    – J.R.
    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:05
  • Noun at the start of relative clause sounds ungrammatical. Is it ungrammatical? I think it is "not because of the Joker"
    – ikigai20
    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:07
  • @lollei123 - I think my sentence is grammatical; moreover, trying to cram the "not" in there makes it awkward. The question is merely tying the fame of the actor with the notoriety of the role – it's not like anyone asking that question will be looking for a numerical answer.
    – J.R.
    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:14
  • 1
    No you got that wrong. Your sentence is grammatical, i was saying that your question was the exact opposite of mine.
    – ikigai20
    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:18
  • @J.R. How many people know who Joaquin Pheonix is because of the Joker? isn't the same as the question OP is trying to ask about. His intended question specifically excludes people who know who JP is because he played the Joker - it asks how many know who he is for other reasons. Sep 30, 2019 at 12:26

1 Answer 1


Both OP's versions are awkwardly expressed, and #2 is also syntactically invalid because there's a missing second instance of the word is as highlighted below...

2a: How many people are there whose reason for [them] knowing who Joaquin Pheonix is is not the Joker?

Also note that although the "reflexive" pronoun them above is syntactically valid, it's not required, and most native speakers wouldn't include it in such constructions.

I'm not sure whether the use of that in example #1 is actually "ungrammatical", but idiomatically it's not good. A better way of introducing the "restrictive" clause (identifying the type of people to be summed up as the "how many" total) would be...

1a: How many people are there for whom the Joker is not the reason [that] they know who Joaquin Pheonix is?

In practice though, the exact question being asked involves a fairly complex restriction, so in a casual conversational context, even many native speakers would struggle to find a concise way of expressing that restriction. It's a bit different for me here because I'm writing (so I have plenty of time to think of how to phrase things), but in a real-world spoken context I think I'd be more likely to ask something like...

3: How many people know who Joaquin Pheonix is apart from because of the Joker?

  • Can you place a noun after "that" as I did in the first example by placing "The Joker" at the first?
    – ikigai20
    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:27
  • In some contexts there's no problem with having a noun after "that" in such "restrictive clauses". For example, How many people are there that John owes money to? is fine. That's why I said above that I'm not sure whether your version is actually "ungrammatical", because there's no clear-cut rule saying when the restrictive clause has simply become too complex to be accepted as idiomatic / natural (which I think is the reason your version doesn't work, whereas my John version is okay). Sep 30, 2019 at 12:38

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