Remote Relatives (1). Today: Generally. “Every relative word which is used shall instantly present its antecedent to the mind of the reader, without the least obscurity.” Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric 65 (Grenville Kleiser ed., 1911). Surprisingly few modern grammarians discuss what has become an increasingly common problem: the separation of the relative pronoun (“that,” “which,” “who”) from its antecedent. For example, in the sentence “The files sitting in the office that I was talking about yesterday are in disarray,” the word “that” — technically — modifies “office,” not “files.” But many writers today would intend to have it modify files. They would loosely employ a “remote relative.” The best practice is simply to ensure that the relative pronoun immediately follows the noun it modifies. Lapses involving “which” are extremely common: “This will take the game back to its roots in the 1920s, when we had the Decatur Staleys, owned by Staley’s starch company, which later became the Chicago Bears.” John Rothchild, “Rooting for the Federal Expresses,” Time, 30 May 1994, at 53. (“Which” modifies “Decatur Staleys” — 6 words and 2 nouns before. The Chicago Bears started out as Staley’s starch company? Fascinating. Actually, the problem is the parenthetical phrase “owned by Staley’s starch company.” A possible revision: “This will take the game back to its roots in the 1920s, when we had the Decatur Staleys, owned by Staley’s starch company. That team later became the Chicago Bears.”) Next: With “that,” “who,” and “whose.” For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “The bad or indifferent English to be met with in private and business correspondence and in a good deal of printed matter is often due not so much to gross mistakes in grammar or the use of words as to poor craftsmanship, that is, to sheer clumsiness in using the tool of language.” M. Alderton Pink, Craftsmanship in Writing 2 (1960).