I faced a question where I was supposed to fill in the missing blank. The question was:

The large family _____ house had been destroyed by the storm was invited to stay at a hotel.

There were multiple options including:

i) whose

ii) that its

Can someone explain why option (ii) is wrong while option (i) is correct?

What is the grammar involved here?

  • 2
    Because that's how the language works! We can say "The family that lived in the house [that had been] destroyed...", but if there is no verb we have to say "The family whose house..." Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 13:23
  • Duplicate of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/230431/… Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 13:46

1 Answer 1


I think OP's second version is a failed attempt at a cleft sentence. Simplifying, we have the non-idiomatic form...

1: This is a sentence which its language is English. (its = possessive this sentence's, not it is)

...which is trying to fuse the two separate clauses / sentences...

2: This is a sentence. Its language is English.

The idiomatically correct way to join those two is...

3: This is a sentence whose language is English

Simplifying even more, we can remove the "possessive" element and consider...

4: This is a sentence which it is written in English. (NON-IDIOMATIC, as per OP's example #2)

...which non-idiomatically attempts to fuse...

5: This is a sentence. It is written in English.

The idiomatically correct versions are...

6a: This is a sentence which is written in English
6b: This is a sentence that is written in English
6c: This is a sentence written in English (the "relativising" element can validly be omitted entirely)
6d: This is a sentence. It is written in English

Note that whereas we can completely discard the "relativizing" element in #6c above, we can't do this with the possessive forms (the family's house, the sentence's language).

I don't think there's a clear-cut grammatical justification for rejecting the syntax of my examples #1 and #4, which looks to me very similar to the subject of this ELU question. Essentially, what we have is "redundant relativizers" (the contextually-relevant family / sentence has already been referenced by the pronoun it, so there's no need to reference it again using which, that, or possessive whose). It's just not idiomatic (today, at least, but I suspect such constructions might have been more acceptable a couple of centuries ago).

Thanks to @snailcar for suggesting that the constructions we're dealing with here involve (failed) attempts to use resumptive pronouns. I'm not 100% sure, but I suspect the reason they fail is because they violate Ross Constraints (as covered in that link by our very own John Lawler).

  • You may want to look up resumptive pronouns.
    – user230
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 15:03
  • Dang! I search for things like "superfluous / extraneous pronoun / relativizer", but found nothing useful. I'll include a reference, ty. Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 15:14

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