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"Ray," she said in that whispery conspirator's voice that he had come to dread. "Ray, listen --"

I saw the sentence in a book, The Long Walk. The usage of that that-clause confuses me. Is it modifying the noun word voice? I think the sentence is saying her whispery conspirator's voice made him come to dread. Is my understanding correct? And, why does it use the perfect tense?

2 Answers 2

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It applies to the entire phrase "whispery conspirator's voice", not just "voice". Presumably, he doesn't dread her voice in general, just when she whispers in a conspiratorial tone.
The perfect tense is used because it is describing a reaction he had come to have after hearing that tone in the past, when it had been associated with some difficulty.

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  • I don't understand the sentence structure. Normally, I'd expect "such... that..." structure for this, like she said in such whispery conspirator's voice that he had come to dread.
    – dan
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 14:07
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    @dan "That" in "that whisper conspirator's voice" is a determiner, as in "that cat" or "that car". The second "that" is a relative pronoun and a relative clause marker. Clear now?
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 17:45
  • @EddieKal Not really. I understand its a relative pronoun, but what the relative clause is doing there?
    – dan
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 20:36
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    Let's simplify it. "the voice that he dreaded" is parallel to "the book that I like". Now, substitute "that whispery conspirator's voice" for "the voice", and "that he had come to dread" for "that he dreaded". The structure is the same, it's just more descriptive. Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 21:26
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    @dan Jack's latest comment is what it is. I may not have phrased it correctly.
    – AIQ
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 21:34
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The first "that" is just a determiner, as Eddie Kal says in the comments. Compare these examples:

She said [something] in that manner.
You are not going to solve anything with that attitude.
Hit him in the head with that bottle.

Now break the original down:

She said "Ray" in that [whispery conspirator's voice] that (or which) he had come to dread.

If you rephrase it, it would be something like this:

She said "Ray" in a manner that he doesn't like. (You can replace "that" here with "which" to actually understand its purpose)

I think Jack's answer pretty much covers the "perfect tense" part.

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  • Normally, the noun or noun phrase takes a role in the relative clause. E. g. This is the book that I like. "That I like" modifies "the book". (I like the book). But in this case, "the whispery conspirator's voice" doesn't seem to take any part in the relative clause(he had come to dread), does it?
    – dan
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 21:21
  • @dan It does. "that he had come to dread" modifies "that whispery ... voice". There may be more than one type of whispery voice, but he dreads a specific one. She said it in that whispery voice, which he dreads.
    – AIQ
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 21:31

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