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Hello there,

please help me with the following question:

Are free relative clauses always noun clauses functioning as subjects/objects?

I understand that in the sentence

"Whoever has taken my money is a thief,"

the first part "Whoever has taken my money…" is a free relative clause/noun clause in the role of a subject.

Similarly, in the sentence "I see what you mean," the object

"... what you mean" is a free relative clause as well.

Are my sentences correctly analyzed?

Are free relative clauses always noun clauses? And vice versa:

Are all clauses acting as subjects and objects free relative clauses?


Thanks for your help in advance.

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(This terminology is not used in all linguistic systems.)

In English grammar, a free relative clause is a type of relative clause (that is, a word group beginning with a wh-word) that contains the antecedent within itself. Also called a nominal relative clause, a fused relative construction, an independent relative clause, or (in traditional grammar) a noun clause. A free relative can refer to people or things, and it can function as a subject, a complement, or an object.


https://www.thoughtco.com/free-nominal-relative-clause-1690808

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pantaugrammar2Are free relative clauses always noun clauses functioning as subjects/objects? I understand that in the sentence "Whoever has taken my money is a thief," the first part "Whoever has taken my money…" is a free relative clause/noun clause in the role of a subject.

Whoever has taken my money is a thief.

Modern grammar takes the underlined expression to be an NP (noun phrase), not a clause. Its status as an NP becomes clear if we paraphrase it as “the person who has taken my money”, where “person” is clearly a noun as head of a noun phrase. The fact that it is an NP is what enables it to function freely as subject, object etc., like any other NP can.

pantaugrammar2Similarly, in the sentence "I see what you mean," the object "... what you mean" is a free relative clause as well. Are my sentences correctly analyzed?

I see what you mean.

This is a different construction, where the underlined element is not a relative construction but a subordinate interrogative clause (embedded question). The meaning is “I see the answer to the question ‘What do you mean?’”

pantaugrammar2Are free relative clauses always noun clauses?

No, they are not clauses but NPs. See above.

pantaugrammar2Are all clauses acting as subjects and objects free relative clauses?

Infinitival, gerund-participial, and declarative/interrogative content clauses can function as subject:

To turn back now would be a mistake. [infinitival clause]

Bringing your Dad in on the deal was a great idea. [gerund-participial clause]

That he was acquitted disturbs her. [declarative content clause]

How she escaped remains a mystery. [interrogative content clause]



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Comments  

Thank you very much for your answer.

BillJWhoever has taken my money is a thief.
Modern grammar takes the underlined expression to be an NP (noun phrase), not a clause. Its status as an NP becomes clear if we paraphrase it as “the person who has taken my money”, where “person” is clearly a noun as head of a noun phrase. The fact that it is an NP is what enables it to function freely as subject, object etc., like any other NP can.

After thinking about your answer, I suspect that the following is wrong with it:

You take a second, non-randomly changed sentence, your paraphrase, compare it to my original, and then, on the grounds of this flawed comparison, you say the subject would be an NP in both cases.

Your paraphrase “the person who has taken my money” contains a defining relative clause "who has taken my money". The head noun "the person" is the so called antecedent, to which the relative pronoun "who" of the subordinate clause is referring.

The transition to the free relative clause is now in the fact, that in the wh-word "whoever" out of my original sentence, the sense of your antecedent "the person" is contained. A free relative sentence doesn´t need an antecedent, which let´s your paraphrasing differ in grammar from my original example.

Furthermore, your paraphrasing doesn´t proof that the subject "Whoever has stolen my money…" is a noun phrase. Because it actually does not contain an antecedent, there´s no head noun there, and in consequence there´s no noun phrase. You must not take your paraphrasing for the genuine subject I used, because both examples differ in grammar, a fact that has to be denoted in terminology (difference phrase/clause).

Think about that: Your own example, which is supposed to make me believe my "Whoever…"-sentence would possess "something similar" to a regular noun phrase as subject, contains a subordinate clause (relative clause), including the subject "who" and the verb "has taken". The presence of subject and verb in this constituent qualifies it as a clause.

In my original sentence the subject has this clause-structure, but without possessing a head noun, which is, as antecedent, incorporated into the wh-word of the free relative clause.

Again: By taking your paraphrase (and it´s only a paraphrase) you take a second sentence, which differs from the original one, compare both of them, and then you claim that the grammatical structure of your substitute would describe the grammatical structure of my original as well, ignoring the differences.

You may say that the paraphrase was not chosen merely randomly because it expands the wh-word "whoever" into an antecedent (head noun) and a relative pronoun "who", in accordance with my imagination of what a wh-word in a free relative clause is (relative pronoun including the imagination of a possible antecedent). Thing is now, that this does not give you the right to identify the paraphrase grammatically with the original because then you do not name the differences any more. You leave your students clueless concerning the question why a thing that has mere SV-clause structure like a free relative sentence is suddenly treated as if it had a head noun, that is, as if the antecedent was explicit, like in your own distinct example sentence.

You claim that "modern grammar" would treat my example as an NP.

Apart from your statement, I could only find pages in the internet which call the subject or object clauses containing wh-words "free relative clauses", "noun clauses", "nominal relative clauses" or the like. Similarly, on these pages I find my second example "I see what you mean" confirmed as a sentence having a free relative clause, something you deny in your answer.

Please take a look at the following page whose address was given to me as

part of the response to my original post by one of the other teachers before you could answer to my post:

https://www.thoughtco.com/free-nominal-relative-clause-1690808

Again, by suggesting that "I see what you mean" had the same meaning like

“I see the answer to the question ‘What do you mean?’” you take at hand a second sentence you have "invented" yourself and which more or less strongly differs from my original sentence, and then suddenly you claim that the grammar of this new sentence would explain the grammar of my original one, calling it a "subordinate interrogative clause".

To put it like that:

On the page with the link given above in this message, I found the following

example:

"Nobody knows it, because nobody knows what really happened."

It´s similar to my own example "I see what you mean" because both contain the wh-word "what".

Would you accept the example out of the internet "what really happened" to be a free relative clause?

I know this response is lengthy. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to your answer.

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pantaugrammar2After thinking about your answer, I suspect that the following is wrong with it

I don't respond to ungracious replies.

Doesn´t like criticism...

pantaugrammar2

Doesn´t like criticism...

Well, come on. Be reasonable.

It's not very pleasant to engage in discussion with someone who makes comments like "does not give you the right to" and "clueless".

CJ

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Come on, it´s only about grammar.

Who would take this personal?