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I have read the following sentence written by a native speaker:

The virus people are infected with belongs to the genotype....

Is this correct? Or should it read "the virus infecting people belongs..."

Thank you.

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  • 3
    Either way. . . .
    – Xanne
    Commented Jun 10 at 20:32
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    What's your reason for thinking that the first version might be incorrect?
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 10 at 20:34
  • Another native speaker told me it was incorrect
    – Rachel
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:08
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    Did you ask them why it was incorrect? (It might be someone who's been taught that the passive is evil but that isn't really true. It might be an issue with relative clauses where again a lot of people have incorrect ideas. But we can't just keep on guessing.)
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:12
  • Could also be the "don't end with a preposition" fallacy.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:30

3 Answers 3

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[…] people are infected with […]

is a defining relative clause.

  • A: Which virus are we talking about? There are so, so many!
  • B: The one “people are infected with.” (= definition)
  • A: Ah! OK, now I understand. 😜

A defining relative clause is never surrounded by commas, so it may be difficult to spot (What are “virus people”⁇).


If the the relative pronoun (here that) is the object or prepositional object in the relative clause, the relative pronoun is frequently omitted. Let’s turn the relative clause into a full main clause:

  • People are infected with that. (that stands for the virus)
  • With that is the prepositional phrase, so you can drop the relative pronoun that.

Relative clauses without relative pronouns are also known as contact clauses.


the virus infecting people

This is just a stylistic choice. Instead of using a relative clause, you can use a participle next to the noun. However, it has a slightly different subtext:

  • The virus that is infecting people

    The virus is still infecting people (present progressive). Every day there are new people who become infected with the virus.

  • The virus that people are infected with

    There is already a certain number of people who contracted the virus. The number may change, it’s unspecified, but we’re only concerned about the virus that has already been contracted by people.

To summarize: As Xanne wrote in the comments, either way is fine.

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  • "People are infected with that. (that stands for the virus)": "that" is not a relative pronoun here, but a demonstrative; you have to make it stand out somehow ([that], for instance).
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 10 at 22:14
  • @LPH I’m not claiming that the word that in the sentence People are infected with that. was a relative pronoun. Commented Jun 10 at 22:25
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According to A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Quirk et al, 1985) this sentence would not be acceptable. It is constructed on the model below, shown to be unacceptable by the asterisk.

(CoGEL § 9.6) The plane was destroyed through the pilot's carelessness.
~ . . . the pilot's carelessnes through which the plane was destroyed
~ . . . the pilot's carelessnes *(that) the plane was destroyed through

  • The virus people are infected with

The verb form has a passive value, there is a deferred preposition ("with"), and the relative is obviously the zero relative.

A correct construction would be "the virus with which people are infected".

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    Covid is a virus up with which I will not put.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:30
  • @Barmar I've never seen or heard anything like that, although there is a certain undeniable logic to it; am I supposed to believe it is correct?
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:33
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    It's a variation of a quote attributed to Churchill regarding the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition: "This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put."
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:37
  • @Barmar "To put up with" is not separable; so for the sake of what he had to say he chose to use outlandish grammar… I don't understand him too well.
    – LPH
    Commented Jun 10 at 21:48
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    American here, but Churchill was skewering pedantry with the backwards quip. Commented Jun 10 at 22:10
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In American English, The virus people are infected with belongs to the genotype… is perfectly acceptable. Casual, perhaps, but acceptable.

It’s analogous to What insect were you bitten by? and to Our grandson was delighted by his Christmas stocking, and the toys it was filled with. And semantically, infected with is roughly equivalent to sick with or suffering from.

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