Re: Attraction of Relative (was Incorrect Greek)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Sep 22 1998 - 14:26:29 EDT

At 11:24 AM -0500 9/22/98, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>Adam, Professor AKM wrote:
>> " Or is there a rule that
>> stipulates when an author *ought* to assign relative pronouns a case that
>> conflicts with its role in its own clause? "
>Professor Adam,
>This is a case worth considering because this conflict is common enough that
>the grammarians have invented a term for it, Attraction.

And if it really IS that common, then one ought not to speak of it as if it
were an anomaly. I think, Clay, that you're just wanting to run us poor
grammarians out of business with your recurrent suggestion that grammatical
"patterns" are "more or less" arbitrary. There is just enough truth on your
side (but no more) to make one wary of any assertion that any and every
grammatical rule is invariably followed or that the traditional
explanations of a construction cannot be improved on. I can think of some
(particularly regarding Voice) that I think can stand a great deal of
improvement. But for the most part, our ability to read Greek as well as we
can (when we can), considering the fact that we were not born reading or
speaking it, involves a debt to generations of teachers and grammarians who
have helped show us that, even if it retains much of an aura of mystery,
Greek is not just "all Greek" to us; more often than not the Greek we read
makes perfectly good sense. Frustrating as it may be when it doesn't do so
right away, I think we still ought probably to assume that our inability to
read a passage of Greek says more about our own inadequacy than about the
inadequacy of the author.

>Perhaps you are
>speaking of a situation where the relative pronoun is in the wrong case for
>its role in its own clause and is NOT attracted to the case of the
>I have always found the notion of "attraction" somewhat dubious. It looks to a
>skeptic like the grammarians didn't have the slightest idea why the relative
>pronoun was in the wrong case for its role in its own clause, they glanced
>back and saw that it agreed with the case of the antecedent and so the
>invented the idea of attraction to account for it.
>I don't think I have ever seen a clear functional description of the
>attraction of the relative. The grammarians just point out that it happens
>without any attempt at explaining how attraction functions within the Greek
>language system, what purpose it serves.

I think Smyth makes pretty good sense (#926): "Apparent violation of the
concords is to be explained either by, (a) Construction according to sense,
where the agreement is with the real gender or number ...; or by (b)
Attraction, when a word does not have its natural construction because of
the influence of some other word or words in its clause. ... This principle
extends to moods and tenses."

And, particularly with reference to pronouns, Smyth, #2522: "A relative
pronoun is often attracted from its proper case into the case of its
antecedent, especially from the accusative into the genitive or dative. A
demonstrative pronoun to whose case the relative is attracted, is usually
omitted if unemphatic. Cp. 'Vengeance is his, or whose he sole appoints:'

I really think most instances of attraction do not demand any extraordinary
discernment to grasp how the construction arose.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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