It is not the peasant’s goal to produce the highest possible time‐averaged crop yield, averaged over many years. If your time‐averaged yield is marvelously high as a result of the combination of nine great years and one year of crop failure, you will still starve to death in that one year of crop failure before you can look back to congratulate yourself on your great time‐averaged yield. Instead, the peasant’s aim is to make sure to produce a yield above the starvation level in every single year, even though the time‐averaged yield may not be highest. That’s why field scattering may make sense. If you have just one big field, no matter how good it is on the average, you will starve when the inevitable occasional year arrives in which your one field has a low yield. But if you have many different fields, varying independently of each other, then in any given year some of your fields will produce well even when your other fields are producing poorly.<The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond · 2013>

I think the 'which' in "in which" or 'in which' itself is not grammatical or very rare because the antecedent is not a noun but a clause that includes the verb 'arrives'. Is the sentence 'you will starve when the inevitable occasional year arrives in which your one field has a low yield' grammatical or wrong?

  • 1
    But the antecedent of in which IS a noun. It's the inevitable occasional year. Specifically, the year with a low yield. Though why the peasant wouldn't just put some money in the bank during the 9 good years, rather than buying up inefficient small parcels of land, escapes me. Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 10:56
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    @FumbleFingers - I doubt that banks existed in early agrarian societies, or if they did they weren't available to your average peasant! Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 12:46
  • It is completely grammatical. The year in which he arrived on these shores was 1655. For example.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 13:49
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    @KateBunting: It was intended metaphorically. Put some stuff by - either long-term storage of your own food, or swap your surplus for a "delayed barter" with someone else who definitely will have food in those years when you need it. I just think any method of leveraging the resilience of society at large is better than encouraging a few people to start piecemeal hoovering up the land of those families that already went to the wall. Both approaches are "insurance", but Diamond's advice looks to me like it favours the "better off" over society at large. "Field scattering" is inefficient. Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 16:08
  • @Lambie Yeah, but my example includes 'arrives' before 'in which' and that was the question.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 11:48

2 Answers 2


I add to what @FumbleFingers has explained about the antecedent.

...you will starve when the inevitable occasional year arrives in which your one field has a low yield.

is fine.

which modifies year.

That clause means the same as

...you will starve when the inevitable occasional year in which your one field has a low yield arrives.

This latter version, however, has a long adjective between the noun and the verb, and is hence not preferred.


Relative pronouns do not need to immediately follow their antecedents. It's even possible for several nouns to come between the antecedent and the relative pronoun without causing confusion.

To find the antecedent of a relative pronoun, look back in the sentence to the first noun that matches the relative clause grammatically and semantically:

There's a car in that field past the wall of stone which hasn't been driven for 50 years.

In that sentence, "which" unambiguously refers to "car" even though the two aren't beside each other, and even though "stone", "wall" and "fence" are closer.

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