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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Grammar
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0924  Wednesday, 3 April 2002

[1]     From:   Mari Bonomi <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 13:05:26 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

[2]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 18:26:43 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 13:30:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

[4]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 21:38:16 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

[5]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 20:50:22 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar, thanks

[6]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 22:59:44 -0500
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

[7]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 3 Apr 2002 04:40:05 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 13:05:26 -0500
Subject: 13.0912 Re: Grammar
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

<<Q: "Is there a word which describes a word that has several meanings?"
>>
<< Sorry to digress (I don't have an answer to Steve's question), but
given the subject line here, I have to ask: should "that" and "which" be
swapped in this question?>>

In this sentence both first and second pronoun should be "that"--
"which" would follow a comma and be essentially an appositive.  I know
there are more proper grammatical terms for the usage than "appositive"
but I assiduously avoided learning such terminology in school <g>.  Too
much exposure to generative transform grammaticists, perhaps?

In order to get rid of the overwhelming presence of "that" I urged my
students to use "who" when the pronoun referred to one or more persons.
Most people avoid "who" to avoid having to recognize when to use "who"
and when to use "whom."

I think many people also overuse "which" b/c they think it "sounds"
better... or more erudite. I know I did until a professor called me up
short on it and made me learn the differences.

Mari Bonomi

Question was

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 18:26:43 +0100
Subject: 13.0912 Re: Grammar
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

Steve Sohmer writes, 'I have to ask: should "that" and "which" be
swapped in this question? My general rule is "use 'that' unless it
sounds wrong; then use 'which'".' But this one sounds right either
way...??"

I think "that" and "which" were correctly deployed in the original
question.  "Which" should be used to introduce a modifying clause.
Having said this, I often find it difficult to discern that which is not
a modifying clause...  It can safely be said that Steve's method would
be frowned upon by linguists; it can equally safely be said that it's
the one most of us use...

m

or should which be "which that is not...".... ( ! ! ! ? ? ? )

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 13:30:59 -0500
Subject: 13.0912 Re: Grammar
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

>  Sorry to digress (I don't have an answer to Steve's question), but
> given the subject line here, I have to ask: should "that" and "which" be
> swapped in this question?
>
> My general rule is "use 'that' unless it sounds wrong; then use
> 'which'." But this one sounds right either way. ??

The rule, very rapidly disappearing from early C21 English along with a
lot (two words) of other elegant distinctions, involves the difference
between what used to be called restrictive and non-restrictive modifiers
(there are other terms, but I gave away all my handbooks when I retired
from teaching and will have to depend on other members of the list to
supply them).  Restrictive modifiers point to particular items within a
group of similar items by specifying some distinctive feature not shared
by the others in the group.  Non-restrictive modifiers only add
information about something whose identity is already adequately
established.

The rule calls for introducing non-restrictive adjective clauses with
*which*, restrictive with *that*.

In the sentence in question, "Is there a word which describes a word
that has several meanings?", the rule calls for *that* with both
instances of *word*, singling out words that describe words from all the
possible words and then words that have several meanings from all words
that describe words.  I'm going to guess that Steve Sohmer chose "which
. . .that" instead because it "sounded better."  But to us old-man
schoolteachers that's not a sufficient reason.

While I'm at it, let me add that restrictive modifiers following nouns
(including adjective clauses) are not set off by commas, while
non-restrictive modifiers are set off by commas.  Even people who do not
observe the which-that rule still maintain the distinction
phonologically--non-restrictive modifiers are usually preceded by a
slight pause--and if you are in doubt about a sentence say it out loud
to see if you feel called on to insert a pause.  If either Steve knew
the rule they could hear that that first clause is restrictive: *which*,
no comma.

Grammatically,
David Evett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 21:38:16 +0100
Subject: 13.0912 Re: Grammar
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

Steve Roth wrote about the use of 'that' and 'which':

> My general rule is "use 'that' unless it sounds wrong; then use
> 'which'." But this one sounds right either way. ??

Microsoft's wordprocessing package 'Word' recommends we use "that" when
the following clause is essential to the meaning of the preceding
clause, and ", which" when the following clause is not essential to the
meaning of the preceding clause.

Thus "She bought him a car that he wanted" indicates that he wanted a
particular car, while "She bought him a car, which he wanted" indicates
that he wanted to be bought any car.

This distinction is surely the cleverest thing about Microsoft Word,
which in other ways makes one feel like one is typing while wearing
boxing gloves.

Steve Sohmer's original question was about words having more than one
meaning. Steve commented:

> The word "check" has several meanings: i.e., to hold back, to verify, a
> financial instrument, a v-shaped mark, a cloakroom ticket, etc.

Aren't those five different words, all of which happen to be spelt
"c-h-e-c-k-"?

Gabriel Egan

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 20:50:22 EST
Subject: 13.0912 Re: Grammar, thanks
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar, thanks

Dear Friends,

Thanks for your help. I think the word that I was looking for is
"polysemous."

All the best,
Steve

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul E. Doniger <
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Date:           Tuesday, 2 Apr 2002 22:59:44 -0500
Subject: 13.0912 Re: Grammar
Comment:        Fw: SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

In reply to Steve Sohmer:

>  Sorry to digress (I don't have an answer to Steve's question), but
> given the subject line here, I have to ask: should "that" and "which" be
> swapped in this question?

Absolutely not. Although 'that' could replace 'which', in this sentence,
the second 'that' is irreplaceable. ["Is there a word which describes a
word that has several meanings?"] Two 'thats' work fine.

> My general rule is "use 'that' unless it sounds wrong; then use
> 'which'." But this one sounds right either way. ??

1. Very bad rule!
2. It does NOT sound right either way! The switch sounds wrong.

> (I studiously refused to learn sentence diagramming in school, so please
> excuse my ignorance.)

Diagramming (which is very useful) would not help with this question. I
didn't learn it in school either, but I taught myself many years later.
The effort was definitely worthwhile.

Regarding the subject line for this thread, it is erroneous. The
question of which word to use is not a grammar question, but a
vocabulary one ('lexicon' if you want to get fancy). Even the 'that -
which' question is more one of usage than of grammar.

While I'm on the subject, 'homonym' is NOT the correct term. Homonyms
are words that sound the same but have different meanings (there, their,
they're), not multiple meanings for the same word. POLYSEMY does look
like the best choice. I've never known anyone to use this term, however.

Paul E. Doniger

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 3 Apr 2002 04:40:05 -0500
Subject: Re: Grammar
Comment:        SHK 13.0912 Re: Grammar

Words don't have meanings. They have uses.

T. Hawkes

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