May 25, 2004

Participial relative clauses

If you're interested in English syntax, you'll interpret this post in one of two ways. You might find that it documents a curious construction that (like me) you've never noticed before, and in fact didn't believe to be possible. Then again, you might find that it documents the fact that an allegedly literate adult (like me) can remain completely ignorant of a commonplace and perfectly ordinary aspect of his native language. (If you're not interested in English syntax, you'll want to return to our discussions of eggcorns, ghits and coffee.)

An email query from Haj Ross led me to discover sentences like these:

"Both of whom being influenced by Ellington, Rowles and Brown choose one Ellington tune for each of the two albums that comprise this two-CD set..."
"Ireland and Denmark, both of whom being heavily reliant on British trade, decided they would go wherever Britain went..."
"At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different Judges, some of whom having no experience in this field."

These are supplementary (non-restrictive) relative clauses with a present participle in place of a finite verb, whose subject is a partitive structure involving a relative pronoun, like "both of whom", "most of whom", "few of whose parents", "part of which".

Frankly, every single one of these examples seems completely ungrammatical to me -- or at least they did at the start of the investigation. Of course I have no problem with participal relative clauses like "the boy sitting in the chair" -- but these normally lack a relative pronoun, and the examples above are more like "*the boy who sitting in the chair looked up"!

In some cases, I can fix such sentences up by deleting the prepositional phrase with the relative pronoun (e.g. deleting "of whom"), or by replacing the relative pronoun with a regular pronoun (e.g. replacing "whom" with "them"), or by replacing the participle with a finite verb form (e.g. replacing "having" with have"):

At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different judges, some having no experience in this field.
At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different judges, some of them having no experience in this field.
At present, personal injury cases are heard by many different judges, some of whom have no experience in this field.

So my first thought was that the examples in the first set were mistakes of composition -- slips of the keyboard -- caused by a typing substitution, by a partial revision, or just by losing track of the structure under construction.

However, it seems from Haj's note that such sentences are fine for him. I can't assign him responsibility for the examples above, which I found on the web, but he cites invented examples like

These men, neither of whose ID's being valid, were jailed immediately.
These gophers, some of whom having mated already, command top dollar.

which (if I understand his note) he takes to be perfectly OK. And looking on the web, there are lots and lots of examples of this pattern. So either these preposterous imitations of English have been produced by infiltrators from some parallel universe, or this is one of those little corners of the language where idiolects differ.

Here are a few other examples, just to push the point for those whose initial reactions are like mine:

"The partnership between Mfume and Bond, both of whom having held elective offices for many years, pushed the NAACP aggressively back into national politics in the 2000 election."
" was fascinating to find the many fields of medicine entered and the many locations chosen by those of us who attended Duke Medical School together just after the war, most of whom having also been in the armed services."
"She seems to know and be known by a great many residents, many of whom I also know, several of whom being some of the finest elder members in my own congregation, Nashville’s Second Presbyterian Church."
"CFA has grown to represent many of the leading names in UK chilled food production, who employ more than 50,000 people around the UK, many of whom being in rural areas."
"He was one of four brothers, three of whom having died or departed."
"Two associate members and two alternates (none of whom having a prior or present employment relationship with the Fund) would be appointed by the Managing Director after appropriate consultation."
The design and manufacture of the prototype is predicted at a total of eight months, three months of which being design.

There are also plenty of examples with mass-noun partitive constructions, like:

If the branch is aboveground at a bank of meters, all of the service line can be a main, part of which being aboveground.

There are also a few examples that can be construed as relativization out of a supplement to the relative clause, which is a mere island violation:

"The next evening we spent with the Consul and his two pretty daughters, neither of whom being able to speak a word of English, the conversation was carried on in French."
"In this report I have dealt more in particulars for the reason there are no reports from brigade commanders, all three of whom having been captured, I reserve to myself the privilege of making such corrections as would appear right and proper when I subsequently have the opportunity to examine their reports."

These are easier for me to take, once I succeed in parsing them. And then there are some where the participial relative clause is restrictive, which seem even worse to me:

The 99ER Pairs is open to any two players neither of whom having more than 100 or more masterpoints as of November 1st of the year in which the event is held.

As in the case of "such the good son", I expect that now that I've learned that this construction exists, I'll gradually learn to accept and perhaps even use it. No, I probably won't use it, except in a sort of jokey semi-quotative manner.

[Note: in case it's not obvious, I should state explicitly that I don't see anything logically or conceptually impossible in these constructions. I've studied languages that use relative pronouns freely in analogous non-finite clauses (e.g. Latin ablative absolute constructions):

having been learned
the soldiers
gave a speech
        (B.C. 1.7)

it will be possible
to run down
        (Q.C. 9.3.13)


I just didn't realize that English was such a language -- for some people.]

I'll risk adding even more verbiage to this already over-long post, by observing again that this case provides another example of the unsolved problem of looking things up in grammar books.

CGEL devotes chapter 12 to "Relative constructions and unbounded dependencies", and chapter 14 to "Non-finite and verbless clauses". In chapter 11 ( "Content clauses and reported speech), it mentions (p. 990) non-finite clauses with question words, like

Whether hunting or being hunted, the red fox is renowned for its cunning.

Chapter 15 is "Coordination and supplementation", and it cites (p. 1359) supplements that are "comparable in function to a relative clause":

The tourists, most of them foreigners, had been hoarded onto a cattle truck.

[By the way, this must be one of the rare errors in CGEL -- "hoarded" seems to be a malapropism for "herded".]

Somewhere in the 350-odd pages of these four chapters, there is probably a discussion of participial relative clauses with subjects like "some of whom", but I couldn't find it. Nor could I figure out how to find it in the index.

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 25, 2004 08:51 AM