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I have two questions regarding relative clauses (which I believe they are).

Question 1:
From an article in The Guardian

The Chinese government has taken the rare step of formally confirming to the UN the death of a Uighur man whose family believe had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017.

Here it says

" ... a Uighur man whose family believe had been held in..."

and here is what I'd rewrite as I understand the sentence:

"... Uighur man whose family believe (that) he had been held in..."

If I understood correctly, why is the subject 'he' omitted?
If not, what is grammatical rule behind the original sentence from the Guardian?

Question 2:
From an article in the Wall Street Journal

The Biden administration on Thursday barred U.S. companies from supplying Chinese entities it said were building supercomputers to help Beijing develop new weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear devices.

Here it says

"...Chinese entities it said were building supercomputers..."

and here is how I understand the sentence:

"... Chinese entities which the Biden administration said were building supercomputers..."

‘which’ here is 'entities' is how I understand it.
Is this correct? If it is, what is ‘it said’? Is it just an embedded clause?
What grammar is behind this one?

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  • As for why he is omitted, imagine a simpler sentence: This is a man who eats fish. Clearly "this is a man" is the main clause, and "who eats fish" is a adjective clause, so it doesn't get a subject like he. Incorrectly adding the subject again, like This is a man who he eats fish is a common error of English learners. The sentence with "whose family believes" is exactly the same way. – stangdon Apr 9 at 11:37
  • @stangdon I know simple relative clauses but for the Guardian one, as far as I know, it should be separated into '...the death of a Uighur man.' + ' His family believe (that) he had been held ...'. So 'His' becomes 'whose' to form relative clause. But then why is 'he' omitted? is my question. – Anatolia Apr 9 at 11:50
  • It would certainly be simpler and clearer if they had separated it into two sentences instead of stuffing the Chinese government, the UN, the death, the man, a family, and an internment camp all into one sentence, but it does technically work as one sentence. – stangdon Apr 9 at 12:02
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    @BillJ I understand, but surely the constraint does not prohibit a phrase such as "a man who believes (that) he's God"? In which case, why in your view does it prohibit a phrase such as "a man whose family believe (that) he's in a camp" or "...(that) he had been held in a camp"? – rjpond Apr 10 at 8:45
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    @rjpond Sorry for the delay in responding. I'm trying to locate a paper I have on the constraint. As soon as I find it, I'll answer you question. – BillJ Apr 10 at 17:32
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Both sentences are ugly and unnecessarily hard to parse, and should have been rewritten.

However, the first one is simply wrong. Consider the following:

The Chinese government has taken the rare step of formally confirming to the UN the death of a Uighur man who had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017.

The Chinese government has taken the rare step of formally confirming to the UN the death of a Uighur man whose family had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017.

These sentences make sense, because the relationship between the subject - the man, or his family - and the verb - "had been held" - is clear.

But the original introduces a second level with the fact that it is the family who believe he had been held. It is an error to try and combine the "who" of "who had been held" with the "who" of "whose family".

The only way to fix this is to make it another relative clause (at the cost of making the sentence even more complex):

The Chinese government has taken the rare step of formally confirming to the UN the death of a Uighur man who, his family believe, had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017.

but really the only proper thing to do here is to rewrite completely.

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    I certainly find the sentence to be ugly and poorly written. It's very nearly a garden path sentence, what with that long chain of modifiers. @Anatolia: Even major and respected newspapers make grammatical errors every single day. – stangdon Apr 9 at 11:59
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    These comments, while well-intentioned, are hilarious. I worked as a newspaper sub-editor for many years and I know exactly how error-ridden journalists' copy can be; while the subs correct most of it, they can never expect to get everything. And that was in the days when there were many more subs than today, and much more time for them to work on each piece. Also, of course, the Guardian in particular has a reputation for being full of errors, so much so that its nickname is the Grauniad (admittedly this reputation is from more than 30 years ago). – Daniel Roseman Apr 9 at 12:19
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    The OP's example is relatively "wordy", making it harder to focus on the specific syntactic element that at least some of us don't much like. But unless I'm very much mistaken, exactly the same "awkwardness" can be illustrated by They arrested a man whose wife says is innocent. And unsurprisingly, I can't find a single written instance of the sequence a man whose wife says is (or ...says was) in Google Books. Doubtless because any "would-be" writers thereof thought better of it before putting pen to paper! – FumbleFingers Apr 9 at 12:59
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    @BillJ given that several people agree this is incorrect, claiming it is "simply not true" is well beyond what you can reasonably state. – Daniel Roseman Apr 9 at 15:04
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    Fine. If I were still a sub-editor and you submitted that sentence in your copy, I would change it. – Daniel Roseman Apr 9 at 17:45
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The OP's example is relatively "wordy", making it harder to focus on the specific syntactic element that at least some native speakers don't like. But unless I'm very much mistaken, exactly the same "awkwardness" can be illustrated by...

Police arrested a man whose wife says is innocent

I could't find a single written instance of the sequence a man whose wife says is (or ...says was) in Google Books, which didn't surprise me in the least. But I did find one instance of a man whose wife says he is lazy, with that all-important pronoun he explicitly included, and one instance of a man whose wife claimed that he was..., where I believe that also functions as a relative pronoun.

It's just my opinion, but personally I think that strictly speaking the construction is valid with or without an explicit pronoun reference, but all versions are "ugly" to many native speakers, so it would usually be better to go for more substantial rephrasing Perhaps The wife of a man arrested by police says that he is innocent.

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    Or "Police arrested a man believed by his wife to be innocent." – ColleenV Apr 9 at 14:06
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    Yes, that's a better rephrasing than mine! Or at least, it feels like your version is a less substantial rephrasing than mine - and in this context, the less that has to be changed, the better. – FumbleFingers Apr 9 at 15:22
  • But you can't say *"...the death of a Uighur man [whose family believe [he ___ had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017]]. The inclusion of the personal pronoun "he" as subject of the embedded content clause (in inner brackets) is not permitted since the subject position is already filled by "whose", i.e. "Uighur man", as subject. – BillJ Apr 9 at 16:02
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    @BillJ: I take it therefore that you believe my example a man whose wife says he is lazy is in fact "syntactically invalid". If so, I won't try to convince you otherwise, but so far as I'm concerned notions of correct syntax are fairly irrelevant here. The construction is inherently ugly, but from my perspective it's at least slightly better with the pronoun included. – FumbleFingers Apr 9 at 16:07
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[1] The Chinese government has taken the rare step of formally confirming to the UN the death of a Uighur man [whose family believe [ ___ had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp since 2017]].

[2] The Biden administration on Thursday barred U.S. companies from supplying Chinese entities [it said [ ___ were building supercomputers to help Beijing develop new weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear devices]].

In [1], the relativised element is subject of the embedded "had been ..." clause. Since this clause already has a subject, the addition of a further one, i.e. the pronoun "he", would be ungrammatical. We understand that a Uighur man had been held in a Xinjiang internment camp ...

In [2] the relativised element is subject not of the relative clause but of the embedded "were building ..." clause. The addition of a relative word (or "that") at the beginning of the relative clause is permitted, though optional. We understand that Chinese companies were building supercomputers ...

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  • @Anatolia. Why have you downvoted my answer, if indeed it was you? – BillJ Apr 9 at 10:41
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    I'm not the downvoter, but I disagree. I would expect to see "who, his family believe, had been held" OR "whose family believe he had been held". – Kate Bunting Apr 9 at 10:51
  • @KateBunting Your first suggestion is simply an alternant to the OP's one (from the Guardian). Your second suggestion won't work for the reason I gave in my answer. – BillJ Apr 9 at 11:08
  • @BillJ I did not downvote you. – Anatolia Apr 9 at 11:37
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    I've been staring at that sentence for long enough that It's giving me a headache. Shouldn't it be "a man believed by his family to have been held in an internment camp since 2017." or "who was believed to have been held..."? There's something about using "whose family" that just doesn't sit right with me. It feels like the rest of the clause should be talking about his family, not him. – ColleenV Apr 9 at 13:49

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