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Then there it was, an ad for “Joe’s Café,” perched atop a metal pole, which was upright under a cape of kudzu vines. Maybe it was the way the setting sun illuminated the yellowing plastic. Maybe it was the small hole, evidence of vandalism or of a hailstorm. Something about the sign touched me. I pulled over.

Is the bold text a appositive clause or relative clause?

If it is a appositive clause, then why "that" is omitted? Is it acceptable? I am only aware of the rule that "that" can be left out in relative clause and objective clause.

And if it is relative clause, should it better be "Maybe it was the way by which the setting sun illuminated the yellowing plastic"? 

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  • John, a nice man, is my friend. a nice man is an appositive, which is just a restatement of some noun or phrase.
    – Lambie
    Nov 21 '20 at 21:25
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The part you highlighted is a finite clause (it contains a finite verb), and that makes it a relative clause, not an appositive:
Google Books "Student's Introduction to English Grammar"

"Finite clause modifiers are all relative clauses."

It is definitely acceptable to leave out the word "that". It would be possible to say "the way by which", but it would be clumsier and it's not necessary.

The whole of "the way the setting sun illuminated the yellow plastic" is a noun phrase headed by "way", modified by a relative clause. The noun phrase is equated to it, which, like the it in following sentence, refers forward to "Something about the sign touched me."

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  • I'd say that "the way [the setting sun illuminated the yellow plastic]" is not a clause but a noun phrase with "way" as head modified by the bracketed relative clause.
    – BillJ
    Nov 21 '20 at 18:47
  • Point taken. A noun phrase, containing a relative clause. Nov 21 '20 at 18:51
  • So in fact I can rewrite it as "That the setting sun illuminated the yellowing plastic was the way "? and is it correct that the "It“ in the original sentence is a dummy subject? Nov 21 '20 at 23:44
  • I don't think your rewrite works as it is in this situation. "It" isn't a dummy subject, but a pronoun that refers forward to "something". If you change the order of the sentences, you could say "What was it about the sign that touched me." And the answer would be "Maybe it was the way the setting sun..." There it is a pronoun with antecedent. The Wikipedia article on "antecedent" mentions the term "postcedent" for when a pronoun refers forward. Nov 22 '20 at 1:27

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