I'm an English learner struggling to decipher the following sentence:

To a medical student the final examinations are something like death: an unpleasant inevitability to be faced sooner or later, one's state after which is determined by care spent in preparing for the event.

My question is, what does the which in one's state after which refer to?

  • 2
    The question is relevant and well put, but is about a basic element of English grammar, and would be better asked on English Language Learners. Hence I have voted to close. But do not be discouraged - simply log-in to ELL and post there.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 9:22
  • 1
    There's a rather unusual "literary reversal" here. The "natural" sequence would be [the exams are a kind of death,] after which one's state is determined by... (i.e. - which refers to after the exams). OR - which could refer back to death. The syntax is compatible with either interpretation, and semantically it makes no difference (because the sentence has already equated exams and death anyway, so they're both referring to the same real-world entity here). Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 11:12
  • ...but it's a syntactically tricky issue, so migration to ELL may not have been fully justifiable. Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 11:19

2 Answers 2


"Which" refers to the unpleasant inevitability (meaning the unpleasant and inevitable event). One's state after death, whether it is heaven or hell, depends on how well one prepares for death, and one's state after the examinations likewise depends on the preparation for them.


Which refers to the final examinations.


The medical student's state after taking the final examinations will be determined by how well they prepared for the examinations.

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