In the sentence below, "That is" before adjective permanent has been dropped.

There is a saying, which says, “The only thing permanent in life is change”

According to this link, The relative pronoun and BE are not "dropped" when BE is followed by an adjective.

So my question is that how "that is" has been dropped in "The only thing permanent..." ?

  • 4
    Here's one analysis: english.stackexchange.com/a/50971/28567
    – user230
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:59
  • what i understand from the link is that relative pronoun and BE are not dropped in the sentences like "I am reading a book that is exciting", because there is only one adjective left after deletion but relative pronoun and BE can be dropped in the sentences like "Bill is a man who is happy to see you" because happy to see you is left after deletion not just the adjective. am i right?
    – amin
    Jul 25, 2015 at 0:49
  • 1
    Read professor Lawler's explanation carefully: "when there is only one adjective left after deletion. The adjective has to be moved in front of the noun". If your sentence read: In life, change is the only thing that is permanent saying: In live, change is the only thing permanent would be odd. But in your example the adjective isn't the only thing left after deletion.
    – Lucky
    Jul 25, 2015 at 1:53
  • @Lucky: Are you parsing "thing permanent in life" as "thing {permanent {in life}}"? With "in life" modifying "permanent"?
    – ruakh
    Aug 6, 2015 at 20:29
  • 1
    When you've lost everything, the only thing left is laughter.
    – TimR
    Aug 16, 2015 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


Adjectives answer the question which or what kind for a noun.

But you can also answer these questions with in a wordier form with a {noun} that is {property} pattern, since to be is a copular verb that completes with a subject complement, and adjectives work as subject complements.

I looked at the car that is red.

I looked at the red car.

No difference in meaning, it's just a stylistic choice of whether you want to use more or less words.

Typically you want to use the adjective unless the adjective is something like a complex adjective phrase or clause, or you want to use more words to ensure a listener/reader understands better.

English likes to place adjectives before the noun, but it's possible to for them to be postpositive or happen after the noun. The Wikipedia article on these details when this usually happens. In this case, I believe the following applies:

One common situation in which adjectives appear postpositively in English is when they qualify compound indefinite pronouns: something, anyone, nobody, somewhere, etc. Examples: We need someone strong; Going anywhere nice?; Nothing important happened.

Even though only thing is not a pronoun, it's working enough like one possibly for the above to apply.


The only thing that is permanent in life is change.

The defining relative clause "That is permanent in life" in the sentence has a subject-pattern adjective clause "that is permanent". According to grammar, such a clause can be reduced to an adjective phrase by removing the relative pronoun + be. So it's correct to say:

The only thing permanent in life is change.

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