There is a sentence like:

It gives children a dream that is useful in life.

There are three noun(It, children, dream(when including pronoun))that can be modified in the sentence above.

How could I know the noun that is modified by relative pronoun clause in this case? (context is the only thing we can use to choose it?)


1 Answer 1


Normally, the modifier modifies what is closest to it. This sentence is no different. The modifier that is useful in life is closest to dream, and it modifies dream. In this case, it's even clearer, because children is plural, while dream and is useful are singular. There may be times when context is the only thing you have to go on, but not in this sentence.

  • 1
    I think, in general, relative pronoun can be used to add information not ambiguity. Especially, when we use defining relative clauses. So, I think we should use better structures to prevent causing any ambiguity.
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 5:43
  • @Ringo Can I change the sentence to "It gives children a dream, being useful in life."? if "useful in life" modifies "it."
    – ARYF
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 5:46
  • @ARYF: In your case, I think being useful in life with the comma would modify "children," not the subject of the sentence. If you want to modify the subject, you should put the modifier either directly before or directly after the subject.
    – Ringo
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 18:11
  • @Ringo Once you answered my question "With the comma, the sentence-ending present participle phrase refers to the subject of the sentence".
    – ARYF
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 5:22
  • Ha ha, you caught me. So, the example above has three nouns (subject "it", direct object dream, indirect object children). Your previous question has two nouns (a subject and object). My feeling is that the third noun introduces too much confusion for the reader. But, in formal English, I guess what you wrote in the comment above is not incorrect. What you should know is people don't necessarily understand the rule about commas and sentence-ending participle phrases, even people who read and write a lot. It's better to move the modifier to the beginning if you want people to understand.
    – Ringo
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 6:04

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