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Example: The chair was Peter's, who would never again sit at this table.

There is no ambiguity in this sentence - "who" can only refer to Peter. Yet, I'm not sure if it sounds right. Is there a rule governing possessive nouns immediately followed by relative pronouns? I could of course write, "The chair belonged to Peter, who would never again sit at this table," but I would like to know if the previous option is correct.

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    No, I don't think you can do this. To be honest, I really don't like the pronoun being used in contexts like I gave all my money to them, who promised they would spend it wisely. But it's better than I gave all my money to they..., and I gave all my money to theirs... doesn't seem to make sense at all. Jun 24 at 16:27
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    I understand it clearly, and in speaking I probably wouldn't notice it, but in writing it's a clear mistake. Relative pronouns refer to previous nouns, and "Peter's" is a pronoun that refers to the chair, not to Peter, even though it contains the noun "Peter".
    – gotube
    Jul 5 at 6:27
  • Thank you, gotube. That makes sense. It did sound wrong to me, but I couldn't understand why it sounded wrong. Jul 6 at 12:27
  • @gotube ... your reply would be better as an answer than a comment, especially since the only current answer is not good.
    – fred2
    Jul 17 at 17:09
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    @fred2 Tx, and done
    – gotube
    Jul 17 at 18:15
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It is perfectly proper. It is true that a pronoun must refer, implicitly or explicitly, to an an antecedent noun or pronoun. A sentence is not ungrammatical if the antecedent of a pronoun is a pronoun.

I gave it to him with the understanding that he deliver it to you.

is not ungrammatical. It is an ambiguous sentence unless the person that “he” refers to and the thing that “it” refers to have been explicitly mentioned or implicitly denoted by context.

In any case, “Peter’s” is not a pronoun; it is a proper noun in the possessive case.

I understand FumbleFingers’s concern. English has so reduced its inflectional system that a sentence such as he proposes, where a pronoun in one case refers back to a pronoun in another case, may be hard to parse, but it is grammatical. I might tend to avoid such a usage in formal writing, but I would not write

It was the chair of Peter, who would never again sit at this table.

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There's no strict rule about which antecedent a pronoun refers to -- it can be inferred from context that it's not the closest one -- but the noun itself must match the relative pronoun, not some part of the noun.

I understand your sentence clearly, and in speaking I probably wouldn't notice anything was wrong, but in writing it's a clear mistake. Relative pronouns refer to previous nouns, and "Peter's" is a possessive pronoun that refers to the chair, not to Peter, even though it contains the noun "Peter". The sentence means Peter's chair would never again sit at that table, and his chair is a person.

And it gets worse. Generally speaking, even in a sentence where the possessive pronoun is a person and the relative pronoun refers to that person:

"The child was Peter's, who was crying"

it sounds so awful that someone hearing it would be unsure whether the pronoun "who" was awkwardly referring to the child, or ungrammatically referring to Peter. So best avoided entirely.

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You straight up can. An easy example off the top of my head is the musical theatre song "mama who bore me". While the context is slightly different, it works. I would say this isn't used as heavily as other constructs, but it's valid. Similar methods include the more archaic rural/southern "what". Such as, "That lady what wears a dress is very pretty." Sounds a little odd to modern ears, but is absolutely correct.

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  • The OP's question is about the validity of using a relative clause to refer to a the noun part of a possessive pronoun with "'s". This doesn't address that question, and your example has bad grammar, which is just going to be more confusing to a language learner
    – gotube
    Jul 5 at 6:33

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