I'm a foreign student who is interested in the book known as Alice in the wonderland. There was a conversation between Alice and the red queen in which the latter replied:

"...but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!..."

I've never seen the sentence with 'which' followed by 'that'. Could anyone explain the meaning of this sentence and the grammar of 'which that' as well?

  • 1
    The red queen is a character in "Through the Looking Glass", not "Alice in Wonderland"
    – James K
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 16:55
  • 2
    "Which that" is not a constituent. "That" refers to something mentioned previously in the discourse -- let's call it "x". The relative clause is "compared with which x would be as sensible as a dictionary!", where "which" refers to "nonsense". In other words if "x" was compared to the nonsense they'd heard, x would be as sensible as a dictionary.
    – BillJ
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


The "which" refers to the other nonsense she has heard. We could restructure the sentence as

That would be as sensible as a dictionary compared with other nonsense which I've heard!

but then it would not be parallel with her comment about the garden and the hill.


You have a demonstrative pronoun "that" (meaning "the thing I just said") in a clause

That would be as sensible as a dictionary.

And we are fitting this into a "compared with" sentence:

That would be as sensible as a dictionary compared with the nonsense which I've heard.

Except the Red Queen doesn't structure it like this. She starts with "I've heard nonsense," and now "which" is a pronoun that refers to this nonsense. Then the "that" clause is inverted to the final position.

Here is an example with simpler words:

That strawberry is sweet compared with the apple I ate

I ate an apple, compared with which, that strawberry is sweet.

(A comma might help between which and that)

The style here is "heightened" it is the style of speech that Oxford professors of the the 18th century might use. It sounds rather pretentious now.

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