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Is This Right?

March 11, 2008

“A large, shadowy form appears in the back seat of the vehicle, which police say may have been Carson’s.”

When you read this sentence do you understand what may have been Carson’s to be the vehicle or the large shadowy form?

If the structure of this sentence is correct, could you tell me why, what is the clue.

4 Comments
  1. momo permalink
    March 11, 2008 2:29 pm

    I would assume that the descriptive clause here refers to the car, if only from the context (what I presume to be an article based on a police report, in which grammar may not be a priority, but identifying the car would be).

    Then I would think it refers to car because of it’s position in the sentence (directly following car).

    A lot of people (including me) use which and that interchangeably, so I won’t speculate further about the actual technical grammar details.

    All that having been said, this is an awkward sentence that smacks of police report-ese.

  2. Kitty Glendower permalink
    March 11, 2008 4:08 pm

    So if the sentence had not been awkward, the descriptive clause would follow the direct object (as it does here, even though the sentence is awkward)? If so then the point would be to not allow space between what is being described and how it is described or if not space, then concerning not the confusion of another object/subject. The vehicle=Carson’s. If that is the case then I understand the structure. I think I have read corrections when a description is at the end but it is hard to determine what the direct object is. I think I have been assuming the descriptive clause refers to the first object listed. I will have to take care and notice how I have been doing it.

    When I first read this, I did think they were saying that the shadowy figure might have been Carson’s. It was not until I read a few paragraphs further that I realised that it must be the vehicle.

    Thank you so much for helping me Momo.

  3. momo permalink
    March 11, 2008 7:05 pm

    I wouldn’t offer a hard and fast rule, just say that there are two possible referents, the shadowy figure and the body, and it is confusing as to which one the descriptive clause applies to, since it could be either, and that is what makes the sentence awkward, IMHO. That confusion might not always arise just because of the location of the description (next to object or at end) if other elements in the sentence or context made it clearer.

  4. momo permalink
    March 11, 2008 7:06 pm

    I meant the car. dang it.

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