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Is "that no one could have predicted" a relative clause modifying the noun "way"?

Events unfolded in a way that no one could have predicted.

2
  1. Events unfolded in a way that no one could have predicted.

  2. He had an idea that the money had disappeared.

Sometimes it is difficult to know whether a that-clause is a normal content clause (a normal finite subordinate clause), or a relative clause. If we think the clause is attached to a noun like way or idea there is a little test we can do. We can try to replace the word that with the word which. If the result is grammatical, then this is a relative clause. If it's ungrammatical, then the clause is probably a normal [declarative content] clause.

If we do this with the original poster's example we get:

  1. Events unfolded in a way which no one could have predicted.

This is maybe less elegant than the original, but is perfectly grammatical. This means that the clause was a relative clause.

Let's try this with example (2):

  1. *He had an idea which the money had disappeared. (ungrammatical)

Because this isn't grammatical, we know that that the money had disappeared in (2) is a content clause, not a relative clause.


Grammar note:

This test will not work with a small number of nouns such as day, time and place. this is because these nouns can take special types of relative clauses which use when or where instead of which.

  • Thank you for the elaborate answer. – Opel Nov 22 '19 at 23:49

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