English grammar and usage issues

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Unread postby chopper » 28 Apr 2009, 22:27


In the two identically formed sentences below, the word 'which' produces ambiguous interpretations.

"I stayed in a hotel, which was really nice."
I would say that 'which' refers to the hotel being nice, not the stay.

"I failed the exam, which was really surprising."
Here, 'which' refers to the surprise of failing, rather than the exam.

Why and how does the word 'which' refer to different components of the above sentences? And is there any grammatical term or reasoning for the above usage?

Thanks in advance

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Re: Which

Unread postby matthau » 27 Jun 2009, 16:25

The thing is that 'which' refers to the whole clause, not to a single word within this clause. The antecedent for which is:
1) I stayed in a hotel.
2) I failed the exam.

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Re: Which

Unread postby gec » 20 Jul 2009, 11:45

I appreciate that this is a very old question, and probably doesn't require an answer anymore, but anyway:
The issue is with the comma.
If there is no comma, then you have a defining clause and 'which' refers clearly to the hotel or the exam - the hotel/exam was really nice/surprising. The 'which' part of the sentence gives us information to help us identify the hotel.
With the comma in place however, the relative clause ('which was really nice/surprising') is 'non-defining' and refers to the whole of the main clause. It doesn't define the hotel/exam, but it gives us more information about the situation.

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