I can make simple relative clauses that share arguments just fine, but I struggle with certain clauses.

Take the following English sentences:

  • Someone killed* a person*
  • I hated the killing*.
  • You saw a person*.

In English, this would be nested as "You saw the person whose killing by someone I hated." However, that uses a copious amount of particles, which is incompatible with my heavily agglutinating conlang, and I don't want to relex English anyway. How could I turn something like this into a sentence with relative clauses in an agglutinating SOV language? I tried making parts of this, but each has its own problem:

|R 1-NOM R person-S-ACC kill-PST-NMZ-ACC dislike-INT-PST| contains the clauses that would become relative, except I can't find a way to make the main clause reference the person behind multiple layers of clauses.

|2-NOM R thing-NOM kill-PST person-ACC see-PST| has the main clause and what I believe would be the first layer of the clauses, but I can't find a way to add descriptors to the verb without nominalizing it, which would ruin the entire clause.

2 Answers 2


In terms of different approaches to relative clauses, Hittite does it "backward" from English: it puts a marker on the noun in the relative clause, and then has a pronoun that's used in the main clause to point back to it. This means it should be compatible with basically anything you do with your nouns.

Quoting my answer on another site:

Hittite puts the noun inside the relative clause, then puts a pronoun in the main clause. The case of this pronoun indicates the role of that noun in the main clause.

ÌR.MEŠ=YA=wa=za ku-ēs dā-s nu=war=as=kan kattanta pehute-t nu=war=as=mu arha upp-i
subjects=my=QUOT=INT which-N.PL take-2S.PST and=QUOT=3P.ACC=MOD away lead-2S.PST and=QUOT=3P.ACC=1S.DAT back send-IMP.SG
"My subjects that you have taken, you have led them away, send them back to me!"

Or in idiomatic English: "Send back my subjects that you have taken and led away!"

nasma=tta URUKÙ.BABBAR-sas ZAG-as ku-is BĒLU maninkuwan nu ERIN₂.MEŠ ANŠU.KUR.RA.MEŠ apē-dani wek-ti
or=2S.LOC Hattusa-GEN border-GEN who-N.SG lord-N.SG near and soldiers chariots that-DAT.SG request-2S
"Or the lord of the borders of Hattusa (NOM) who is near to you, ask that one (DAT) for soldiers and chariots"

Or in idiomatic English: "alternately, ask the border-keeper who is closest to you for soldiers and chariots". The noun is in the nominative since it's the subject of the relative clause; the pronoun is in the dative because it's the indirect object of the main clause.

If necessary, the noun can also be repeated in the main clause; this is helpful when there are several relative clauses in a row, to emphasize which one goes where.

dU-as kuē-dani UD-ti hatuga tethi-ski-t […] ANA ĜIŠGIGIR-ya=kan kuē-dani apē-dani UD-ti ar-hahat […] ĜIŠGIGIR-ya tūriyan apātt=a dāi-r
stormgod-N.SG which-LOC.SG day-LOC.SG fearsomely thunder-ITER-3S.PST […] LOC chariot=MOD which-LOC that-LOC day-LOC stand-1SG.PST […] chariot-ACC harnessed there-and take-3PL.PST
"The day on which the Storm-God thundered furiously, the chariot on which I stood on that day, they took the harnessed chariot"

Or in idiomatic English: "they took the harnessed chariot that I stood on on the day when the Storm-God thundered furiously".

  • @Mlvluu It's multiple clauses, but they're linked to each other via relative markers. Using one of those markers in a clause signals that it's a relative that's going to be referenced in the next one.
    – Draconis
    Dec 2, 2022 at 4:28
  • I can't find a way to make this fit something like the example I gave. How would you do it?
    – Mlvluu
    Dec 2, 2022 at 4:57
  • @Mlvluu Something like… "I hated the killing of a person-REL. You saw them-DEM."
    – Draconis
    Dec 2, 2022 at 5:45
  • Could I do |1-NOM R person-ACC kill-PST-NZ-ACC dislike-INT-PST 2-NOM person-DEF-ACC see-PST|? Or maybe |2-NOM R 1-NOM dislike-INT-PST R person-ACC kill-PST-NZ-GEN person-ACC see-PST|?
    – Mlvluu
    Dec 2, 2022 at 16:35

Simplifying a little, I do this by letting combinations of case markers reference their foregoing nouns, like pronouns.

1. What does that look like in simple examples?

Here in SOV using case suffixes and freestanding pronouns, "referring" case first so it reads kind of like "the ACC object is the NOM up next." You can rearrange that sort of thing.

Fred likes trees which lean.

Fred-NOM trees-ACC like ACC-NOM lean.

Fred points toward trees which lean.

Fred-NOM trees-DAT point DAT-NOM lean.

You don't necessarily need the first -NOM if the subject is always first.

Fred owns the horse and kicked Bob.

Fred-GEN the horse-POS owns, GEN-NOM Bob-ACC kicked.

Fred owns the horse that Bob kicked.

Fred-GEN the horse-POS owns Bob POS-ACC kicked.

Fred owns the horse that kicked Bob.

Fred-GEN the horse-POS owns POS-NOM Bob-ACC kicked.

2. What does that look like for my example?

You saw the person whose killing by someone I hated.

You-NOM person-ACC saw, I ACC-GEN killing-POS someone-ERG POS-ACC hated.

3. What if I have multiple objects of the same type?

For me, the case particles also "and" by repeating.

Fred likes trees and buildings which lean and which stink.

Fred-NOM trees-ACC buildings-ACC like ACC-NOM lean [ACC-NOM] stink.

If a verb always comes last, you may not need the second 'ACC-NOM' to "and" there. A "zero-and" was an emergent behavior from my syntax which I love.

The speaker should decide whether the intended antecedent is clear in context...

Yuki teaches Japanese and Javanese, which is uncommon in Tokyo.

Yuki-NOM Japanese-ACC Javanese-ACC teaches, ACC-NOM uncommon Tokyo-LOC is.

... whether you are better off with two sentences or a different tool (a "verb case" for this and other non-finite verbs? a pro-verb to refer to a verb?)...

Yuki teaches Icelandic and Javanese, which is uncommon in Tokyo.

Yuki-NOM Icelandic-ACC Javanese-ACC teaches. Teaching-NOM those subjects-ACC Tokyo-LOC is uncommon.

Or perhaps use word order to link by proximity. Below there are two different "locative objects." Context might already tell the listener that "they" can't take "the day." Still each appears closest to the clause where it is relevant.

The day on which the Storm-God thundered furiously, the chariot on which I stood on that day, they took it

The day-LOC the Storm-God-NOM thundered furiously, the day-LOC I-NOM the chariot-LOC stood, they-NOM LOC-ACC took.

4. What does that look like in a more complex example?

Alice sees Bob, who points at Charlie, who runs from Alice, who is Bob's neighbor and boss.

Alice-NOM Bob-ACC sees, ACC-NOM Charlie-DAT points, DAT-NOM Alice-ABL runs, ABL-NOM-POS Bob-GEN neighbor ABL-NOM-POS boss is.

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