This is how they lived.

In the sentence above, what function does how have? Complements, interrogatives, content clauses, etc. I looked up on CGEL, but I’ve not found explanations for the example. It seems like ‘how they lived’ makes a complement from ‘they lived how’; ‘how’ is a manner adjunct, or ascriptive/descriptive adjuct. And from any construction pattern, ‘how’ is shifted forward to make the clause, they lived how, the complement of is.

How should I understand the how clause?

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    How they lived is a fused relative clause, like who they were or what they did. How here acts as a pro-adverbial, whose referent is an adverb or preposition phrase of manner: They lived extravagantly or They lived in this manner. Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 10:33
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    Similar would be "This is the way they lived."
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 17:12
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    A subordinate expression that has the word "how" as its leading word can often be hard to identify at first. For your example, it seems that there are three potential possibilities: open interrogative content clause, exclamative content clause, fused relative (NP). You'll probably want to look up the word "how" for all three types of constructions (e.g. page 1075, text under [22] for the fused-relative).
    – F.E.
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 1:25
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    Yes, that is an interrogative. The word "how" is extremely restricted in uses as a fused-relative. Notice how their interrogative example [29.iii] "That's who I meant" is quite similar to your example of "This is how they lived". Notice how their structures sorta parallel each other. (Also, notice that these are specifying "be" constructions.)
    – F.E.
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:24
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    Also, notice that interrogative example [29.iv] "He's not who she thinks he is" is quite similar to your example in another thread of yours "evidence that somebody is who they say that they are".
    – F.E.
    Commented Sep 21, 2014 at 3:28

1 Answer 1


How did they run? You are asking in what way/manner they performed the action of the verb; such a word is an adverb: They ran quickly. If a number of words: at top speed/as fast as they could, it is an adverbial phrase/clause. In 'How did they run?' it is an interrogative adverb; in 'This is how they ran', it is a relative adverb.

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