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Schools in Vietnam often focus on teaching students grammar, not common English expressions.

That is why Vietnamese students know a lot about relative clauses, reported speech, conditional sentences, etc but they can not express English sentences that sounds natural to native speakers' ears.

A Vietnamese student said this "Tom received an email from the computer store that told him to post his computer to them"

I guess he tried to join 2 separated sentences using a relative pronoun

-Tom received an email from the computer store

-The store told him to post his computer to them

But I feel like it sounds unnatural to me

Can we use a relative clause in this sentence "Tom received an email from the computer store that told him to post his computer to them"?

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    Yes: it's a case of postposing of the relative clause. The salient interpretation is that the antecedent is "email" not "computer store". Note that there is no relative pronoun present; the relativised element is represented by a gap: "Tom received an email from the computer store that ___ told him to post his computer to them".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 6:17
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    Your example is grammatical, but it would be more natural to say "Tom received an email from the computer store telling him to post his computer to them".
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 6:21
  • @BillJ, you should have a comma after "store" and "telling" modifies "an email" not "store". "Tom received an email from the computer store, telling him to post his computer to them"
    – Tom
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 6:40
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    A comma is optional. Of course the "telling" clause modifies "email". I never said otherwise.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 7:54
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    @gotube It's a subordinator with the same function as the "that" found in declarative content clauses.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 4:57

1 Answer 1

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The cited text is ambiguous. There's no way to conclusively decide whether the referent of that (which could have been which) is the email or the computer store.

But it would be possible (for some Anglophones, not all) to replace that with who, in which case it could only refer to the computer store.

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