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The following is a question from a test for high school students.

His name was John _____ belonged to a theatrical group. (who / which / that)

The answer is 'who'.

But, my doubt: is the clause who belonged to a theatrical group a relative clause?

If yes, which noun (antecedent) is modified by it?

My intuition is that either the sentence should be 'He was John who belonged to a theatrical group', or 'His name was John, and he belonged to a theatrical group '.

Am I correct?

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  • Yes, I agree that your two sentences are better! The example given, "His name was John, who belonged to a theatrical group.," needs a comma, and still implies the name belonged to the the theater group. Mar 5, 2023 at 2:07
  • @DrMoishePippik,Thank you. If the name John is the antecedent, the correct relative pronoun should be which, or that in a defining relative clause, right? Then, how is who the correct answer? Mar 5, 2023 at 2:21
  • Your amended sentence should have been."It was John who belonged to a theatrical group,"... sorry I missed that before. However, the original sentence given you, at top, is definitely awkward and possibly misleading. Mar 5, 2023 at 5:24
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    I’m voting to close this question because it's asking for the "correct" answer to a badly-formed question for which none of the available choices lead to an acceptable English utterance Mar 5, 2023 at 11:23

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From a native speaker - the possible answers you have been presented with (who, that, which) all make for very poor English. I appreciate this may have come from an English learning resource, but it has clearly not been created by a native speaker.

The only words that make sense in that gap would be:

His name was John and he belonged to a theatrical group.

Who, that and which are for introducing either a defining or non-defining clause - information that either confirms or adds to the preceding statement. The first statement is that 'his name was John', and the fact he went to a theatrical group says nothing at all about his name. His name and his hobby are just two unrelated facts about the man, and that is why they should be joined with 'and'.

You would use 'who' or 'that' in a construction like this:

I knew a man named John who belonged to a theatrical group.

The difference here is that the first statement is 'I knew a man', and the fact that he belonged to a theatrical group tells us more about that man you knew and is therefore a clause that helps us define them.

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