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A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, (1) the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What’s the antecedent for which? Is the noun phrase (1) modifying Privet Drive?

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    I think this is Too Localised or Not A Real Question. Grammatically speaking which modifies the preceding noun phrase. It's entirely a matter of logical interpretation (nothing to do with language as such) whether what lays "silent and tidy" is Privet Drive or the neat hedges of Privet Drive. – FumbleFingers Mar 7 '13 at 2:26
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    @FumbleFingers But which preceding noun phrase? For the learner it is important to understand when syntactic and when semantic considerations govern - which are both linguistic considerations. – StoneyB Mar 8 '13 at 12:37
  • @StoneyB: But unless I'm much mistaken, OP knows the basic rule that a pronoun refers back to an earlier noun phrase. If not, he probably wouldn't be asking us to identify the antecedent. I just think this is a pointless "How long is a piece of string?" sort of question. – FumbleFingers Mar 8 '13 at 14:30
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Grammatically, the antecedent of which must be one of three things:

  1. A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive (the entire independent clause)
  2. the neat hedges of Privet Drive (a noun phrase)
  3. Privet Drive (a smaller noun phrase)

To figure out which choice is best, just ask yourself which one makes sense:

  • In this case, 1 doesn't make any sense. For 1 to make sense, the relative clause would have to comment on the proposition, as in the following example: "A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which I found quite surprising, as I'd previously removed all the air from Britain."

  • Likewise, 2 doesn't make a lot of sense. It's true that I wouldn't expect neat hedges to be a place where astonishing things happen, but usually hedges aren't considered places at all. This interpretation doesn't seem very likely.

  • 3 is a much better choice. Privet Drive is a place, and the later noun phrase uses the word "place" explicitly, so it makes the most sense. Reading further should reinforce this choice: the story isn't taking place in the hedges. Rather, it's taking place on Privet Drive.

Ruling out 1 and 2, we can conclude that the antecedent must be Privet Drive.

  • I somewhat doubt this question is being asked in good faith, to be honest. Granted, a breeze can't lay silent and tidy, but your alternatives #2 and #3 are both at least sufficiently credible that it's pointless arbitrating between them unless ELL is to become a Lit Crit site. – FumbleFingers Mar 7 '13 at 2:30
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Which is referred to Privet Drive, for which "the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen" is a noun phrase describing it.

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