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relative sentence

Hi there!

here's my question:
Why is this sentnence impossible:
This man is the man I knew.

I guess at least it is impossible, because 'I knew' must be a restrictive relative clause, but 'This man' would already mean a restriction of the person.
Or am I just wrong with the interpretation here?


  • @Guido, the sentence is not impossible.

    It's a perfectly natural (and grammatical) thing to say if you're holding a photo and being asked to identify the person:

    > Yes, this is the man I knew.

    Terms like restrictive in grammar of limited use. If they you help you to remember, for example, the difference between one type of relative clause and another, then that's useful. It's good for you. But the term doesn't explain anything about relative clauses — or about anything else.

    Another popular term is defining relative. This is also misleading, but also useful as a mnemonic — a word that helps us to remember.

    The best set of terms I know of are those used in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

    i The boys who defaced the statue were expelled. INTEGRATED RELATIVE
    ii My father, who retired last year, now lives in Paris. SUPPLEMENTARY RELATIVE
    iii It was Kim who wanted Pat as treasurer. CLEFT RELATIVE
    iv What you say is quite right. FUSED RELATIVE

    In [i] the SUBJECT of the sentence is the boys who defaced the statue

    The RELATIVE CLAUSE who defaced the statue is an integral part of that SUBJECT.

    The same is true if the NOUN PHRASE has a function other than SUBJECT.

    They expelled the boys who defaced the statue DIRECT OBJECT
    They gave the boys who defaced the statue a stern and final warning. INDIRECT OBJECT
    That was a warning for the boys who defaced the statue. PREPOSITIONAL COMPLEMENT

    It's one of three elements
    1. the
    2. boys
    3. who defaced the statue

    It has the same grammatical status in NOUN PHRASES with parallel structure such as
    Those boys who defaced the statue
    Some boys who defaced the statue
    Various boys who defaced the statue
    Few boys who defaced the statue
    Ten boys who defaced the statue
    No boys who defaced the statue
    The girls who defaced the statue


    By contrast, the SUBJECT of [ii] is My father.

    The relative clause with supplementary information who retired last year is not part of that NOUN PHRASE.

    It's possible to envisage a context for INTEGRATED my father who retired last year but it's an extremely unlikely one.

    • The speaker would have to have two men that he considered as 'my father'.
    • And he/she would be expressing a contrast between the two fathers.

    Both conditions are pretty unbelievable. How many people have two fathers? And even if they do, would they just say 'my father'...'my other father' without first explaining? And what sort of contrast would they want to make?

    My father who retired last year lives in Paris, but my father who stayed on at work lives here with me.

    Not very plausible.

    The Cambridge Grammar points out that while INTEGRATED RELATIVE CLAUSES act as modifiers of NOUN within a NOUN PHRASE. The antecedent (wording related to) of a SUPPLEMENTARY RELATIVE CLAUSE need not be a NOUN.

    i Pat is afraid of snakes, which I'm afraid Kim is too.
    ii Pat is afraid of snakes, which doesn't surprise me at all.

    In [i], the antecedent is the ADJECTIVE PHRASE afraid of snakes
    In [ii], the antecedent is the CLAUSE Pat is afraid of snakes

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