This question, which ask are...
October 31, 2010 11:27 PM   Subscribe

Asking a grammar question for a co-teacher, based on a Japanese textbook.

My co-teacher has a sentence from a reading skills textbook, and it's stumping the both of us. To me, it seems like a typo has been made, but I need to be sure. The sentence is:

At present, PMS cares for about 8,000 leprosy patients in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan, which number is about 1,000 more than in 1982.

The question is about which. While the teacher's book seems to claim that we're talking about a relative adjective, to me, the sentence sounds wrong. Horribly, painfully wrong. It seems to me that the is after 'which number' should be dropped from the text. That, or 'which is about' seems okay. Is there any way that this sentence, as it is, is correct? I like to think I've got a decent grasp on grammar, although admittedly it's been slipping. Please give me some help, if you can.
posted by Ghidorah to Education (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Nope, "number" must be a typo. I noticed that the sentence is referenced here, without that word.
posted by Paragon at 11:39 PM on October 31, 2010


It's definitely wrong. I'm not surprised it came out of a Japanese text book. I remember going through these books with Japanese kids and showing them all the incorrect sentences. They'd come back with an explanation from their native Japanese speaking English teacher explaining to me why they were right.
posted by thesailor at 11:40 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's definitely correct.

Which, in this sentence, refers to 8,000, and is "used as a function word to introduce a nonrestrictive relative clause and to modify a noun in that clause and to refer together with that noun to a word or word group in a preceding clause or to an entire preceding clause or sentence or longer unit of discourse " (from Merriam-Webster.

This construction is falling into disuse in contemporary English, however, which is probably why it sounds wrong. You'll note that the example in m-w is from the King James Bible.

posted by jingzuo at 11:47 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is not correct. The "is" should be removed. That is all.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:54 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


At present, PMS cares for...leprosy patients...which number about 1,000 more than in 1982.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:58 PM on October 31, 2010


Jingzuo is right--it's perfectly grammatical as-is. It's not a construction I would use in my own speech or writing, but I've encountered it so many times that it sounds fine to me, although I wish the relative clause were not so far removed from the number it refers to.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:00 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nonsense. "Number" is a verb.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:04 AM on November 1, 2010


The "is" can only be used if "number" were a noun.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:06 AM on November 1, 2010


The only questionable thing about it is that 8,000 is being used as an adjective. To use "which number is," the referent would more commonly look like this: example one and example two.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:06 AM on November 1, 2010


Just substitute the verb "total" for "number", remove "is" and you'll see.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:11 AM on November 1, 2010


It isn't wrong, it just isn't a popular construction these days. I'd say it's archaic but I do come across it in press releases and newspaper stories. It is awkward, though.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:14 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you remove "is", then, yes, "number" must function as a verb in the sentence for it to be grammatically correct.

If the "is" is kept, "number" is a noun, referring to 8,000 in the previous clause.
posted by jingzuo at 12:15 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


The patients number (total) about 1,000 more than in 1982. Jesus.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:16 AM on November 1, 2010


weapons-grade pandemonium: The "is" can only be used if "number" were a noun

It is a noun, as in the full count of a collection (of 8,000).
posted by DarlingBri at 12:17 AM on November 1, 2010


No, Darling. Not tonight.

I have a headache.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:20 AM on November 1, 2010


I'll relent. It can be read both ways. You know what? You could substitute an em dash for "which number is" and avoid this whole discussion:

At present, PMS cares for about 8,000 leprosy patients in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan--about 1,000 more than in 1982.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:31 AM on November 1, 2010


It's grammatical, but clonky. "Which" is being used as the relative adjective. Compare to "I had a meeting between 7 and 9 Tuesday morning, during which time I dozed off repeatedly." "We went to Smith College square, which place is golden in the dawn light."

If you substitute the relative pronoun "which" for "which number", you have an antecedent problem: the adjectival clause you create modifies Pakistan (the nearest precedent noun) and that makes no sense. There's no doubt that "which number" refers to "8,000", since, you know, that's the nearest antecedent number. The reason the sentence is so awkward is that the adjectival clause is tacked on after that long prepositional phrase ("after...Pakistan").

I would rewrite the sentence thus: "At present, PMS cares for 8,000 leprosy patients, about 1,000 more than in 1982, in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan."
posted by gingerest at 12:37 AM on November 1, 2010


No, wait.

"PMS cares for 8,000 leprosy patients in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan, about 1,000 more than in 1982."
posted by gingerest at 12:39 AM on November 1, 2010


Uh, you and Paragon seem to have selected this example as supporting evidence of a typo (that "number" should be omitted), but you may want to read what that thread is actually saying. It is 100% in agreement with gingerest, from Natalisha's concurrence that the "which" version should technically be take to refer nonsensically to Pakistan to the other two folks' essential agreement that the "which [number] is" versions awkwardly reach back inside a distant phrase to refer to 8,000. Out of all suggestions here so far, omitting "number" is the one thing that does not make this sentence better.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:27 AM on November 1, 2010


Another vote for "it's not wrong at all". It's a bit awkward and old fashioned but not incorrect.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:37 AM on November 1, 2010


I find this construction with "which" literary and a bit 18th century in flavour. But it's ok.

"Ghidorah pointed to an odd usage of 'which' preceding a noun in a dependent clause, which construction gave him pause."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:38 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's so formal and awkward that it is wrong in many personal grammars (as seen in this thread), but not in mine and not in the traditional prescriptivist view (as explained above by gingerest and others). It could be rephrased in many ways but that doesn't make it wrong as-is. This kind of usage is more common in forms like "in which case" and "by which time" these days, but just plain "which X" isn't ungrammatical yet (at least, not for all of us).

If it appears without the "number" in another source, that's probably because someone editing the textbook decided that it would be clearer/more grammatical that way. Probably because they had been taught in the past that to leave out the "which" would be unacceptably ambiguous... So it goes.
posted by No-sword at 1:59 AM on November 1, 2010


Er, to leave out "number", that is. Dammit.
posted by No-sword at 2:03 AM on November 1, 2010


Both gingerest and Monsieur Caution have put their finger on the awkwardness:

...you have an antecedent problem: the adjectival clause you create modifies Pakistan (the nearest precedent noun) and that makes no sense.

Which is why "number" has to be used. This could be solved by moving the intervening prepositional phrase, so "number" becomes optional:

"At present, in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan, PMS cares for about 8,000 leprosy patients, which (number) is about 1,000 more than in 1982."

Or, using "number" as a verb:

"At present, in Afghanistan and the northwestern region of Pakistan, PMS cares for about 8,000 leprosy patients, which number about 1,000 more than in 1982."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:09 AM on November 1, 2010


I do not think Paragon's link marked "best answer" or DarlingBri quite have it. The intervening prepositional phrase aside, the pronoun "which" referring back to the "8,000" is awkward because the "8,000" functions here not as a noun, but as an adjective modifying "patients". So "number" is used to change it to a noun retroactively. But it doesn't quite work. It is like saying:

He drives a red car--the only one on the street--which color attracts the police.

That's why I originally thought "number" was a verb rather than a noun, and possibly that's why it sounds wrong to your ear, Ghidorah.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:05 AM on November 1, 2010


David Foster Wallace did this all the time, and it always made me do a double-take. But it's not wrong.
posted by dfan at 8:40 AM on November 1, 2010


Thanks for all the answers. It does sound freakishly weird to me, and I had thought I was pretty well read, but I've never come across that before. I guess I'm having a hard time trying to figure out the difference between this "which" and just using "whose" in the sentence.

The line in question comes from a high school level English text for Japanese students. Of course, these students can't respond to "How are you?" without having to confer with their classmates , but that's not the point, I guess.

/rages at the Japanese Ministry of Education for making my life a living hell.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:27 AM on November 2, 2010


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