Here is an imperative sentence: "When appropriate, omit relative pronouns".

I try to understand what this sentence really means to a native speaker.

Option A: We say that using optional relative pronouns is generally a bad idea and there should be as few of them in a text as possible.

Option B: We are not incline the reader to omit optional relative pronouns. We say that using optional relative pronouns can be a good idea in some cases (for example, in technical manuals) and a bad idea in others (for example, if you are writing a fiction book about street gangsters, with a lot of dialogues. I suppose these guys would omit words such as that and which whenever possible). This is what I'm really want to say.

Or maybe something different?

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    Adverbial when appropriate carries no universally-recognised implications for how likely it is that circumstances will be appropriate, nor does this construction have any inherent implications for how desirable it is that "appropriate" actions be taken. It literally just means In suitable / proper circumstances, regardless of whether the circumstances and/or the recommended action are inherently good or bad. Jan 29, 2021 at 12:45
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Got it, thanks. It seems it would be more accurate to use When it makes sense instead?
    – user90726
    Jan 29, 2021 at 17:26
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    Yes, you could understand when it makes sense there if you like. But presumably whoever wrote your cited text has no idea how trustworthy your idea of "makes sense" might be, so you'd need to be a bit careful about "inferring" any such ideas. The main thing is the writer is telling you that people who know what they're talking about (by implication, including the writer himself) will sometimes decide (quite properly) that it's best to omit relative pronouns. But on other occasions, they won't do this. Jan 29, 2021 at 17:33
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    (In short, there is no "universal principle" regarding whether one should omit personal pronouns or not. Circumstances alter cases, and all that! :) Jan 29, 2021 at 17:35
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    Actually, I did use "understand" as a deliberate (but in retrospect, bad) choice. I forgot to consider things from your end. I probably shouldn't have used that slightly "unusual" phrasing - it's effectively a reduced version of something more like *It would be perfectly okay if you were to understand / attribute / assign the meaning "when it makes sense" to the words "when appropriate"). In my defence, I often like to hope I'm "pushing" learners towards greater understanding of English by presenting more of its variations (but it doesn't always work! :) Jan 29, 2021 at 18:26

1 Answer 1


Your Option B is more correct. That is to say, the sentence is saying that there exist certain situations in which omitting relative pronouns is appropriate, but implies that there are other situations in which you should not remove relative pronouns. It also implies that the reader of the sentence already knows which situations you should remove relative pronouns for, and which situations you shouldn't.

Because you already know which situations are appropriate, the sentence imperatively tells the reader to remove relative pronouns from inappropriate situations.

  • Thanks. I was confused because sometimes I see sentences like "Stay home when appropriate", which are intended to be interpreted as "Stay home whenever possible", I suppose.
    – user90726
    Jan 29, 2021 at 11:37
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    "Stay home when appropriate" does not literally mean "stay home whenever possible"... however, it also implies that you know when it is "appropriate". Now, in a time of a global pandemic, the appropriate time is in fact "whenever possible", but that's not what the sentence means. The sentence means there are times that are appropriate, and times that are not appropriate, and you should already know which are which. Jan 29, 2021 at 11:39

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