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Someone told me that this sentence is wrong grammatically:

Where is the calculator that I lent it to you yesterday?

I've read the feedbacks from many people that I shouldn't include "it", one person said it is because there's already "that" so that it would be redundant if I add "it".

Apart from all that, could you tell me in detail what is wrong with my sentence, what shouldn't I add and what should I add? If my guess is correct, are these sentences correct? Thanks in advance!

  1. Where is the calculator that I lent to you yesterday?
  2. Where is the calculator I lent it to you yesterday?
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  • 2
    3. Where is the calculator? I lent it to you yesterday. 4. Where is the calculator such that I lent it to you yesterday. Add those variants to your collection. The third is acceptable. The fourth is questionable. Jul 25, 2022 at 1:45
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    @GaryBotnovcan Your #3 doesn't apply to this question, and your #4 is ungrammatical. "Such that" doesn't work that way.
    – gotube
    Jul 25, 2022 at 3:30
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    The relevance of 3 is that it's a grammatically correct word-for-word representation of OP's 2. 4 is an exercise left to the reader. Jul 25, 2022 at 3:47
  • [feedback] is better. Relative clauses refer to a main clause and do not require repetition of the thing referred to.
    – Lambie
    Jul 25, 2022 at 15:41
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    The top answer here is wrong. It is not the case that you cannot use it in the example because of the word that. Even if you don't use the word that, you still cannot use the word it in that example! The answer is that the gap in a relative clause does an important job. If you fill in the gap with a pronoun, there's no gap any more! Jul 26, 2022 at 9:16

6 Answers 6

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What you've heard is correct: "it" is a repeat of "that", and therefore ungrammatical. Here's why.

Your sentence has two clauses, and they have a noun in common, "the calculator" and "it". The "deep" forms of those two clauses is something like:

Where is [the calculator]?
I lent [it] to you yesterday

The parts in [brackets] represent that "the calculator" and "it" are the same thing.

To combine the two sentences together, we choose one clause as the main clause ("Where is the calculator?"), and we subordinate the other one ("I lent it to you yesterday"). In this case, we change this clause into a relative clause.

To form a relative clause, the first step is to replace the noun in common with a relative pronoun, in this case, "that":

I lent that to you yesterday

Next step is to front the relative pronoun, which means moving it to the front of the clause, leaving an unpronounced gap behind:

that I lent ______ to you yesterday

The final step is to insert this relative clause into the main clause so that the relative pronoun comes right after the noun in common in the main clause:

Where is the calculator that I lent _______ to you yesterday?

And we're done. Hopefully you can see that the word "that" actually is "it", the calculator, so repeating it would be a mistake.

In your sentence 2, the word "that" is gone. This is because it is optional. Omitting it does not make it OK to bring "it" back. The gap is still there, so sentence 2 is incorrect. It should be:

  1. Where is the calculator _______ I lent ______ to you yesterday?
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    It seems to me that part of your explanation is misleading and based on the coincidental homonymy between the English demonstrative pronoun "that" (as found in the sentence "I lent that to you yesterday") and the relative pronoun "that" (as in the subordinate clause "… that I lent to you yesterday"). That's a random quirk of English that is not shared by most other related languages, and indeed not even by English itself if you choose any other (near) synonyms for those pronouns (such as "it" or "this" for the demonstrative pronoun and "which" or "who(m)" for the relative pronoun). Jul 25, 2022 at 21:04
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    @IlmariKaronen You're partly right. I think you're referring to my intermediate sentence, "I lent that to you yesterday." If the pronoun were "which", rather than "that", I would also put "which" there, like, "I lent which to you yesterday", even though it wouldn't make sense. So, yes, I know that people will read it as demonstrative "that", but that's not my intent, and short of leaving an explanatory note there, there's not much I can do.
    – gotube
    Jul 25, 2022 at 21:42
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    It is a demonstrative pronoun. You are turning a sentence with a demonstrative pronoun into a dependent clause that (necessarily) starts with an appropriate relative pronoun. (Like you said, the same word can function as both pronouns, but that doesn't mean the first sentence has a relative pronoun.)
    – chepner
    Jul 26, 2022 at 15:06
  • It doesn't matter much what kind of pronoun there is; all that matters is that a pronoun is already there (compared to a conjunction for example).
    – IS4
    Jul 27, 2022 at 12:57
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"That I lent to you" is a relative clause that functions adjectivally in relation to the preceding noun "calculator". It does this by telling the listener or reader which calculator you are referring to. If there were a single-word adjective that could carry the same meaning, let's say "lent-by-me-to-you-yesterday", you could put it before the noun to get the sentence "Where is the lent-by-me-to-you-yesterday calculator?" Compare "Where is the hot calculator?" or "Where is the beautiful calculator?"

The structure of the sentence, and in particular your use of the word "that", signals that a dependent clause is coming. It also makes it clear what specific noun the dependent clause - which here is an adjectival relative clause - will refer to.

"I lent it to you" is a main clause, not a dependent one. It works when the "it" refers back to a noun in an earlier clause - not adjectivally (to give you new information) but as a stand-in for that noun.

You're confusing a dependent clause with a main one.

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    Simple and to the point.
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2022 at 14:55
  • This answer is correct, but I can understand how it might not cover everyone's understanding, especially when dealing with more exotic variations like "Several people have confirmed that I lent it to you", or "That I lent it to you is a proven fact". I'm aware this is grammatically different and that this case is not covered by this answer, I'm merely pointing out that there are constructions in which the words "that I lent it to you" can be grammatically correct, and at first blush this answer seems to imply that it can only ever be one or the other.
    – Flater
    Jul 27, 2022 at 8:53
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[I'm compelled to write an answer here because the accepted one sounds good and is highly voted but is wrong.]

Preliminaries

The word that is not a pronoun and doesn't stand in for a noun phrase. It is the same that which we find in sentences like:

  1. I think that he hit him.

The idea that we can transform sentences by replacing an it or other pronoun in the subordinate clause with a that will not go through. Consider this proposal from the other end:

  1. It is not to [you] that I spoke.

This does not decompose into:

  • It is not to [you]. I spoke [you]. (the last sentence is ungrammatical)

Similarly, consider:

  1. This is not [the place] that we met.

This does not decompose into:

  • This is not [the place]. We met [ it ]. (the last sentence means something different!)

How that relative clauses work.

Relative clauses with that, and those relative clauses that can occur without any relative word both work in the same way. The relative clause has an antecedent, which is often a noun phrase, but may be a different type of phrase, for example a preposition phrase as in (2). That example would be best represented like this if recast as two sentences:

  • It wasn't [to you]. I spoke [to you].

Notice that to you is a preposition phrase, not a pronoun or noun phrase!

The important point about a relative clause with that is that is has a gap in it, and it is this gap that is co-indexed with the antecedent. In other words, the gap tells us where to mentally reinsert the antecedent into the subordinate relative clause. Consider:

  1. This is the man that [he hit]

The verb hit normally takes an object. The object is missing from the subordinate clause in (4). We interpret the sentence like this:

  1. This is the mani that [he hit ___i]

The little < i > there shows that the man and the gap in the relative clause refer to the same thing. So we understand from the gap in the subordinate clause in brackets that the man was hit. We could also represent the sentence like this:

  1. This is the man that [he hit the man.

Compare (4) with (7) below:

  1. This is the man that [hit him].

Here the gap in the relative clause is in subject position. This sentence means:

  1. This is the mani that [___i hit him]

or

  1. This is the man that [the man hit him]

We can also represent It wasn't to you that I spoke in a similar way, as long as we don't pretend that that is a pronoun:

  1. It wasn't to you that [I spoke].
  2. It wasn't to youi that [I spoke ___i
  3. It was to you that [I spoke to you].

The reason that we cannot fill the gap in with words is that the gap actually tells us what role the antecedent plays within the relative clause. Consider examples (4) and (7) and then consider the ungrammatical example (13) below:

  1. This is the man that [he hit him].

We cannot understand from (13) whether the man referred to was hit or did the hitting because there is no gap in the relative clause to tell us where the man fits in.

The Original Poster's question

You cannot fill in the gap in a relative clause with a pronoun. It's ungrammatical to do so. The reason is that the gap is an important part of the relative clause. It tells us what the antecedent refers to.

The word that is not a pronoun, although traditional grammars used to think it was. All the evidence shows us that it isn't. A good way to see this is that even in relative clauses where we don't need to use the word that, we still cannot fill in the gap with a pronoun:

  1. This is the man we spoke to.
  2. *This is the man we spoke to him. (ungrammatical)

Here we clearly see that (15) is ungrammatical even though there is no word that. It is completely irrelevant whether the word that is present or absent, you cannot fill in the gap in a relative clause, with a pronoun or with any other phrase.

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  • Sorry but I just do not understand this gap business. I hit this man. This is the man that I hit. or: This is the man I hit. Where exactly is the gap?
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2022 at 14:58
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    @Lambie I think "I hit _____" <- the man. Sorry to mention a different language, but in German I know that there is an actual pronoun there: something like (pardon my German grammar) "This is the man, him I hit." or "This is the man, he hit me." or "I like to eat cheeses, they have a sharp flavour, I like it." Each part is almost a sentence.
    – user253751
    Jul 27, 2022 at 21:00
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    In English we do it differently and there : "I like to eat cheeses that have a sharp flavour that I like." "This is the man that hit me." "This is the man that I hit." and if you think about the corresponding full sentences: "______ hit me", "I hit ______", "I like to eat cheeses. _____ have a sharp flavour. I like ______." Instead of filling the position with a pronoun like in German, we leave it empty.
    – user253751
    Jul 27, 2022 at 21:01
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I am not sure that I can give a convincing answer here, but the phrase “that I lent you yesterday” is effectively an adjective describing the calculator. To recursively refer to the thing being described inside an adjectival phrase just isn’t done.

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    Two comments: (1) that I lent you yesterday is not an adjective phrase but a relative clause, as all the other answers make absolutely clear. What the two structures share is that they can occur as post-head modifiers to a noun, but that's it. (2) Adjective phrases can refer recursively to the noun that they describe. Usually there's no need to do that, but fully grammatical and logical counterexamples to your claim can easily be found such as a man [AP better than him] or he was [AP full of himself], where him and himself obviously refer to a man and he, respectively.
    – Schmuddi
    Jul 26, 2022 at 7:52
  • Schmuddi is right, and maybe worth editing in agreement with, but I gave +1 because this answer is to the point and easily understandable. Jul 27, 2022 at 5:55
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Very simply, the sentence already has an object, "the calculator." "It" is essentially a repetition of the object of the sentence, and unnecessary. If you end the interrogative, and start another sentence, "it" functions as a perfectly good stand-in for "the calculator."

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The entire phrase, "the calculator that I lent to you yesterday" is the object.

You can replace this with the pronoun "it".

Where is (the calculator that I lent to you yesterday)?

Where is it?

You need to use either the fully described object, i.e. "the calculator that I lent to you yesterday", or its replacement, "it", not both.

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