Which of the following 2 sentences is correct?

a) They left the hotel by car where they had been staying.

b) They left the hotel where they had been staying by car.

I think it should be b) because where should be close to the hotel.

But the answer is given as a). And now I am having second thoughts. Because I guess by car too should be close to left.

So it keeps me wondering to whom shall we give preference for the proximity: noun or the verb?

  • 1
    a) sounds wrong. They don't say why a) is supposed to be the right answer?
    – user230
    Sep 6, 2014 at 12:41
  • No, no explanation given. But if you too concur on b) then I guess only that would be the answer. Maybe the key is wrong.
    – aarbee
    Sep 6, 2014 at 13:15
  • @snailplane I think both of them are correct. I can understand why you say #a is wrong. I think it is because "by car where...". But it's understandable that we live in house not in car. I believe #a is better. Sep 6, 2014 at 15:05
  • @Ramit You can avoid those by rewriting the sentence - By car they left the hotel where they had been staying. Or like this - They left the hotel, where they had been staying, by car. Sep 6, 2014 at 15:14

2 Answers 2


The only rule that all Grammar books say is - a relative clause should immediately follow the noun/pronoun that it modifies.

But like all other grammar rules, this rule also has exceptions. And it's better to say the rule is flexible. Though sticking to this rule will make perfect sense and make the sentence unambiguous, not leave the readers guessing who or what the relative clause describes.

Yet, there are innumerable examples where this rule is not followed, simply for the sake of sounding natural.

Let's take the following sentence -

Rocks paintings of harp-like instruments have been found in France that date back to 15,000 BC

The relative clause of this sentence is marked in bold. It follows the noun France, but the relative clause doesn't modifies the noun France, rather it describes the noun Rocks painting

We don't re-write this sentence like the following

Rock paintings that date back to 15,000 BC of harp-like instruments have been found in France.

If written this way it would not be considered natural, and would rather look clumsy.

There are other examples as well.

Passes may be issued which will allow access by car, coach or ambulance to the esplanade, but they cannot be issued for performances on Saturdays under any circumstances.

The relative clause modifies the noun passes, but they don't occur exactly after the noun it modifies.

The two example sentences that the writer of the OP mentions are both correct. But I prefer the first sentence #a.

  • That's a nice explanation. May I ask for the source of that example? Thanks.
    – aarbee
    Sep 6, 2014 at 16:25
  • I googled and found this sentence in other forum. Probably this sentence was copied from some TOFEL book. Sep 6, 2014 at 16:26
  • Ok, that's interesting.
    – aarbee
    Sep 6, 2014 at 16:30
  • "The only rule that all Grammar books say is - a relative clause should immediately follow the noun/pronoun that it modifies." That is not actually the case. There is substantial literature in linguistics on the extraposition of relative clauses, including from object NPs. (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language uses the term postpose rather than extrapose; see p.1066.) But just because extraposition is sometimes possible does not mean it is always possible, I'm afraid.
    – user230
    Sep 7, 2014 at 5:03
  • @snailplane I don't have that book, it will be very helpful if you can quote the rules from that book. Thank you. Sep 7, 2014 at 11:34

You are correct; b) is right, and a) is wrong. However, it's not about which part of speech gets proximity; rather, it's a matter of breaking the sentence down into phrases and clauses.

Breaking the sentence down fully would overcomplicate things, but a simple breakdown of b) shows why it is correct:

(They) (left (the hotel where they had been staying) (by car)).

As you can see, "the hotel where they have been staying" was a noun phrase, a single coherent "idea". Putting "by car" in the middle of it breaks that phrase up, and the sentence no longer makes sense: Grammatically, a) breaks down as:

(They) (left (the hotel) (by car (where they had been staying))).

That obviously makes no sense; I doubt they would have been at a hotel but staying in the car.

  • This is not completely correct. They left the hotel by car. This is the complete sentence. "Where they had been staying" is a dependent clause. I can't remember any sentence and any source right now, but this practice is common. Sep 6, 2014 at 15:35
  • Now I found a sentence: Rocks paintings of harp-like instruments have been found in France that date back to 15,000 BC Sep 6, 2014 at 15:50
  • I think the difference is that in the original question, "by car" refers not to the subject of the sentence, as with the rock paintings, but to the action of leaving the hotel, while the "where they had been staying" refers to something different, the hotel (the object of the sentence). In your example, the two clauses refer to the same thing (the painting) and are thus interchangeable; the different referents of the phrase and the clause in the original example require stricter grammatical structure. Sep 6, 2014 at 16:09
  • My sentence does have only one relative clause. Sep 6, 2014 at 16:13
  • But there are two potential ones; one is currently part of the main thought. "Have been found in France" and "that date back to 15,000BC" are interchangeable, since they refer to a single thing (the rock paintings); "where they had been staying" and "by car" refer to different things and indeed different parts of speech entirely (the hotel and the action of leaving it, respectively). Sep 6, 2014 at 20:37

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .