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A subordinate clause is said to be attributive if its function in the complex sentence is analogous to that of an attribute in a simple sentence. It differs from an attribute in so far as it characterises the thing denoted by its head word through some other action or situation in which that thing is involved. This could not, in many cases at least, be achieved within the limits of a simple sentence. Compare, for example, the sentence By October Isabelle was settled in the house where, she intended, she would live until she died. (R. WEST) The clause where ... she would live with the dependent
Attributive Clauses 285
clause until she died contains information which could not be compressed into an attributive phrase within a simple sentence.
It is common knowledge that attributive clauses can be defining (or restrictive, or limiting) and non-defining (or non-restrictive, or descriptive). The non-defining ones do not single out a thing but contain some additional information about the thing or things denoted by the head word, e. g. Magnus, who was writing an article for Meiklejohns newspaper, looked up and said, "That's an interesting little essay, isn't it?" (LINKLATER) Non-defining attributive clauses pose the question of boundary line between subordination and co-ordination, which in this case becomes somewhat blurred. This is especially evident in the so-called continuative clauses, which are used to carry the narrative a step further, namely in sentences like the following: But in the morning he went to see Meiklejohn, whose enthusiasm on hearing the news was very comforting. (LINKLATER) We shall have the governess in a day or two, which will be a great satisfaction. (BAIN, quoted by Poutsma) Sentences of this kind may be taken as specimens of subordination weakened and a subordinate clause passing on to something like a co-ordinate position in the sentence. We shall see other varieties of this development in our next chapter.
The question about the place of an attributive clause deserves a few remarks. Most usually, of course, an attributive clause comes immediately after its head word. This is too common to need illustration. But that is by no means an absolute rule. Sometimes an attributive clause will come, not immediately after its head word, but after some other word or phrase, not containing a noun. This is the case, for instance, in the following sentence: He wanted Ann to die, whom his son passionately loved, whom he had himself once come near to loving. (SNOW) The intervening infinitive to die, coming between the attributive clauses and their head word Ann, does not in any way impede the connection between them.
A different kind of separation is found in the following sentence: Jeremy saw the scene breaking upon him that he had dreaded all day and he felt no energy to withstand it. (A. WILSON) The subordinate clause that he had dreaded all day has the noun scene as its head word. Now this noun forms part of the complex object the scene breaking upon him. No ambiguity is created by the separation, as the subordinate clause cannot possibly refer to the pronoun him, and there is no noun between scene and the subordinate clause. That the word that is the relative pronoun and not the conjunction, is seen from the fact that dreaded, being a transitive verb, has no object coming after it; that the phrase all day is not an object is obvious because if the thing denoted by it were thought of as the object of the action the phrase must have been all the day.