Complex sentences

Unique meanings

Qualifying the unknown

Sometimes we want to add qualifying detail to an unknown or unidentified thing or person.

For instance, what do we know about the subject of this sentence?

Thanks to you, whoever has come to help us is doomed.

The Forests of SilenceEmily RoddaSource

Thanks to you, whoever has come to help us is doomed.

The Forests of SilenceEmily RoddaSource

Thanks to you, whoever has come to help us is doomed.

The Forests of SilenceEmily RoddaSource

Thanks to you, whoever has come to help us is doomed.

The Forests of SilenceEmily RoddaSource
  • We know what the main clause tells us: they’re doomed.
  • And we know what the supporting clause tells us: that they have come to help.
  • We also know that they are a person, because of the special connecting word ‘whoever’.

But we have no idea who they actually are; they could be a friend, a stranger, a monarch, a beggar… they could be anyone.

Your turn

‘Question word’ connectors like ‘whoever’ give us the ability to talk about unknown or unidentified people or things. (A little like pronouns.)

Look carefully at these snippets using different connectors.

  • What do you know about the people or things described by the supporting clauses?
  • What do you most obviously not know?

The sounds of night aren't really what's keeping me from Burke and Wills, though.

That Eye, the SkyTim WintonSource

What do we know about the person or thing being described by the supporting clause in this snippet?

Our answer
Your turn

When you stare at a gorilla, it actually means you are challenging them.

Growing Up Aboriginal in AustraliaAnita Heiss (ed)Source

This is a tricky one! Time is a kind of 'thing'!

What do we know about the person or thing being described by the supporting clause in this snippet?

Our answer
Your turn

The moon was low now and the light, wherever it slanted through the trees, seemed thicker, older and more yellow.

Watership DownRichard AdamsSource

What do we know about the person or thing being described by the supporting clause in this snippet?

Our answer
Your turn

But I know how those things go.

The House on Mango StreetSandra CisnerosSource

What do we know about the person or thing being described by the supporting clause in this snippet?

Our answer
Your turn

The point of all this is that we often want to describe entities that are unknown or unidentified. To do this we usually need to use question words, such as:

  • Personwho, whoever
  • Thingwhat, whatever
  • Timewhen, whenever
  • Placewhere, wherever
  • Quality/Methodhow, however

Additionally

There are also words like ‘which’, ‘whichever’ and ‘whose’ which attach to a noun group to form a kind of multi-word connector (e.g. “I didn’t know which way to go”).

And these question words usually lead to a supporting clause with a supporting event of some kind (e.g. “I didn’t know which way to go”).

Extra credit: Are these complex sentences or compound sentences?
Extra credit: Inferring versus knowing
Extra credit: ‘Question word’ connectors versus relative pronouns

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