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Is it a hurricane or the preceding clause, My village was hit by a hurricane? Sometimes it feels it doesn't matter what the antecedent is, just like this case. But I want to know if there is any rule about this.

My village was hit by a hurricane, which killed many animals.

2 Answers 2

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There is no single absolute rule about determining the antecedent, but it's something a lot like:

the antecedent is the closest noun before the relative pronoun that makes sense in the context

In your example, "hurricane" is the closest noun to the antecedent, and it makes more sense that a hurricane would kill many animals than a village would kill many animals, so it's unambiguously "hurricane".

If I reword your example:

A hurricane hit my village, which killed many animals.

then "hurricane" makes so much more sense than "village" as something that would kill animals, that "hurricane" wins, even though "village" is closer to the pronoun.

The bank teller and her friends were interrogated by the police chief, who turned out to be involved in the robbery.

Here, the antecedent is ambiguous. It could be any of:

  • "her friends"
  • "the bank teller and her friends"
  • "the police chief"

"The bank teller and her friends" makes the most logical sense, but since "the police chief" is a reasonably possible antecedent, and closer to the pronoun, that is the understood antecedent.

Another possible antecedent in your example is the entire event of the hurricane hitting your village. There's no noun phrase for the entire event, "which" can refer to that as well.

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  • The whole preceding clause can be the antecedent, can't it? The event that a hurricane hit my village killed many animals. Doesn't it make sense, too?
    – Sungry
    Mar 29, 2022 at 4:20
  • @Sungry You're right, it definitely can, and I've updated my answer. Nice catch!
    – gotube
    Mar 29, 2022 at 6:39
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My village was hit by a hurricane, which killed many animals.

Normally, a relative clause refers to the noun closest to it. In this case, hurricane is the antecedent.

In informal use, a relative clause could refer to the entire clause before it. This is possible only for non-defining relative clauses. In our case here, for informal use, My village was hit by a hurricane could be the antecedent.

Cambridge Dictionary explains.

Some relative clauses refer to a whole clause...

We often use these clauses in informal speaking...

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