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This is the example sentence:

  • I take the bus regularly passing by my office, which is fully packed with commuters.

In this sentence, I'd like to say that the bus "is fully packed with the commuters", not the office. But I was told that this clause will refer to 'my office is fully packed with the commuters', since 'my office' is the nearest noun to the clause.

Therefore, I'm very confused how to put the relative pronoun correctly in this kind of sentence that there are two nouns before the relative clause?

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    The present stance (championed by no less an authority than Pullum, I believe) is not to be precious where a technical ambiguity is 99% resolved by pragmatics, logic. Here, 'which is fully packed with commuters' addressing 'my office' would be ludicrous except in very strange circumstances that would demand being described. Your example is fine. // You are perfectly free to rephrase if that makes you happier. Jun 10, 2022 at 11:32
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    Ignoring the ambiguity about when the bus is packed with commuters, you might rephrase as I take the bus regularly passing by my office. The bus is fully packed with commuters (at least whenever I ride it). Or I take the commuter-packed bus which regular passes by my office. I think this question is more writing advice than English grammar, because it's about minimising ambiguity in a situation with multiple ambiguities, rather than avoiding ungrammaticality. Similar problems occur with the use of pronouns (relative or otherwise) in many languages.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 10, 2022 at 12:41
  • If you do accept @Edwin Ashworth's advice, you will need to take care that your predictive script does not take charge of matters, and that your office doesn't suddenly become "packed with COMPUTERS".
    – WS2
    Jun 10, 2022 at 14:54
  • As others have said, your sentence is fine as is. Semantically, however, it's not possible to take a bus that is always already fully packed
    – gotube
    Jun 10, 2022 at 15:04

2 Answers 2

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Tricky!

I take the bus, which is fully packed with commuters, and which regularly passes by my office.

But it doesn't make perfect sense, because commuters don't ride the bus all day long. But you said "regularly," so that's rather contradictory or sloppy. Actually, commuters usually leave the office more or less en masse at the end of the day.

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  • You are right to point out the problem with "regularly". I would suggest leaving out the word and being specific about when the bus is packed. For example: I take the bus which passes by my office and (which) is packed with commuters twice a day/in the mornings and afternoons.
    – Shoe
    Jun 10, 2022 at 9:52
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    If you insert the "and", there's no need to invert the order of the clauses. I take the bus that regularly passes by my office, and which is fully packed with commuters. Jun 10, 2022 at 12:30
  • What's the problem with commuters? They pack when they commute ... during rush hours. And @PeterShor - Simplicity! Jun 10, 2022 at 13:11
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I agree with this comment:

The present stance (championed by no less an authority than Pullum, I believe) is not to be precious where a technical ambiguity is 99% resolved by pragmatics, logic. Here, 'which is fully packed with commuters' addressing 'my office' would be ludicrous except in very strange circumstances that would demand being described. Your example is fine. // You are perfectly free to rephrase if that makes you happier.

-- Edwin Ashworth Jun 10, 2022 at 11:32

English is for communicating with people. Usually, people are going to be listening to try to understand what you are saying or reading to understand what you've written. They aren't usually parsing sentence structure or checking your grammar. That a sentence could be parsed to mean something different but nonsensical or improbable in a given context doesn't necessarily mean that it must be rephrased to be clear. The most obvious or sensible interpretation for the context is assumed, unless the sentence is very complex.

Sometimes ambiguity is used to make a joke (How does the "Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop..." joke work?) or to create a headline that will make people want to read the article to learn more (How to eliminate ambiguity of "Sisters reunited after ten years in checkout line at Safeway."?), but for most everyday writing, precise placement of relative clauses isn't necessary.

If you intend to communicate the less obvious interpretation, then you would write in a way that forces it to be the only interpretation and that may take more than one sentence.

I take the bus regularly passing by my office, which is fully packed with commuters.

would become

I take the bus regularly passing by my office. I work at the train station, so my office is fully packed with commuters.

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