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I have a question that confuses my mind. I've come across this text:

"You have eight hours in which to complete this exam."

The point which I didn't understand is the meaning of "which to ...". Because "which" is a relative clause. And relative clauses contain subject and verb. Here is the definition of clause:

A clause “a group of words containing a subject and predicate and functioning as a member of a complex or compound sentence" (Merriam-Webster).

Okay so, normally after relative words there should be a clause which includes subject and verb like in this example: "This is the stone against which he leaned." But in mine, interestingly there is no complete clause. There is just an infinitive verb.

Could you please explain the reason why there is not a complete sentence after "which"?

Edit: To make myself more clear I changed and shorten the question.

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    @MichaelHarvey I think OP is confused why the part after "against which" sometimes has a subject and sometimes not. "In which X can Y" vs. "In which to Y."
    – TypeIA
    Dec 16, 2020 at 12:51
  • Thank yo for answer Michael. I actually know this. But, it should have be "a standard against which measure" without "to".
    – grammarian
    Dec 16, 2020 at 12:52
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    Because that's the way English works! We could say instead "against which one can measure..." "in which you must complete..." "on which you/we/one can build... Dec 16, 2020 at 13:21
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    Relative clauses are subordinate so they are not (normally) complete sentences. There's nothing unusual about an infinitival relative clause like in which to complete this exam. The relative clause can be paraphrased as "to complete this exam in eight hours"
    – BillJ
    Dec 16, 2020 at 14:29
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    Infinitival relatives typically have a modal meaning compatible to that expressed in finites by can or should. Compare You have eight hours in which you should complete this exam.
    – BillJ
    Dec 16, 2020 at 14:37

2 Answers 2

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You have eight hours [in which to complete this exam].

The bracketed element is an infinitival relative clause where "which” has "eight hours" as antecedent.

The relative clause is understood as "to complete the exam in eight hours", where the PP "in eight hours" is a temporal adjunct within the relative clause.

Infinitival relatives typically have a modal meaning comparable to that expressed in finites by "can" or "should". Compare You have eight hours in which you should complete this exam.

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This is an ellipsis. The command

Those of you who are taking this exam have eight hours in which you are required to complete this exam

is exact but verbose and gets abbreviated to

You have eight hours in which to complete this exam

The missing words “those of,” “who are taking this exam,” and “you are required to” are implicitly communicated by context.

Of course the result is still verbose.

Complete this exam in eight hours

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    There's no ellipsis. "in which to complete this exam" is an infinitival relative clause, with a modal meaning similar to "in which you should complete this exam".
    – BillJ
    Dec 16, 2020 at 14:46
  • Thanks for answer Jeff. But I agree with BillJ. Because after a little researching, I think there is no this kind of ellipsis in grammar. You can check this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellipsis_(linguistics)
    – grammarian
    Dec 16, 2020 at 14:56

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