Contact Clauses

An example of a contact clause (in italics) from Alice Hoffman's novel The Story Sisters (Crown, 2009).

A restrictive relative clause in which the relative pronoun (or other relative word) is omitted is a contract clause. The omitted element is called a zero relative pronoun.

As the term suggests, a contact clause must be adjacent to (i.e., in contact with) the noun phrase it modifies. (See Examples and Observations, below.)

The term contact clause was introduced by linguist Otto Jespersen in A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (1909-1949).​

Examples and Observations:

  • "[I]f you hadn't found who you were looking for by 2:30 you knew that the contents of all these pubs would empty into the back of Jammet's Restaurant. So in you went and there you would find the person you were looking for or someone who knew where he was."
    (Ronnie Drew, Ronnie. Penguin, 2009)
  • "Unfortunately we had to sack Lydia after that incident you know about. It seems that she had possibly been a little unreliable and certainly the accounts had a number of discrepancies."
    (Cliff Green, Rainbow Academy. Trafford, 2009)
  • "Hey, Flash. There's a guy here wants to see you."
    (George Harmon Coxe, "Murder Picture." Black Mask, January 1935. Rpt. in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, ed. by Otto Penzler. Vintage, 2007)
  • "I was jealous; therefore I loved. And the woman I loved was Maud Brewster."
    (Jack London, The Sea-Wolf, 1904)
  • "When my turn came, I sang, 'I Ain't Afraid of a Policeman.' It was the song I sang when I was the pirate in Miss Leah's dance recital in the spring. It was also the song I sang on the record my grandfather, Tom, and I made at the Savin Rock Amusement Park."
    (Tomie dePaola, I'm Still Scared. Puffin Books, 2006)
  • "'Well,' he said, 'the reason I ask is that I'm afraid I can't recall ever doing business with this man who implies things. No, I don't remember him at all."
    (Philip Singerman, Proof Positive. Forge Books, 2001)
  • Semantic and Syntactic Properties of Contact Clauses
    "It is characteristic of restrictive relatives that they 'stack': i.e. appear recursively after the modified noun:
    (10a) the man who Mary met who John likes
    (10b) the book that Bill bought that Max wrote
    (10c) the book which Bill bought that Mary disliked
    Notably, however, contact clauses must appear immediately adjacent to the modified noun phrase. Only the first clause of a stacked structure can be a contact clause. They cannot be separated from the relative head by another clause:
    (11a) the man Mary met who John likes
    (11b) *the man Mary met John likes
    (11c) the book Bill bought that Max wrote
    (11d) *the book Bill bought Max wrote
    " . . . On the other hand, there are also strong similarities between contact relatives and other restrictive relative clauses. . . . [C]ontact clauses freely conjoin with other relative clauses, as illustrated below:
    (17a) The man John likes and who Mary can't stand walked in.
    (17b) The man John likes and that can't stand Mary walked in.
    (17c) The man who John likes and Mary can't stand walked in.
    (17d) The man that John likes and Mary dislikes intensely walked in.
    In conclusion, it seems that contact clauses have all the semantic properties of restrictive relative clauses and also some of their syntactic properties."
    (Cathal Doherty, Clauses Without "That": The Case for Bare Sentential Complementation in English, 2000. Rpt. by Routledge, 2013)
  • The Case of the Missing That
    "The predicate noun clause not introduced by the conjunction that (we believe [that] the alliance is strong) is as long and well established in English as the contact clause. It is probably more common in casual and general prose than in formal prose. It is also more common after some verbs (such as believe, hope, say, think) than others (such as assert, calculate, hold, intend)."
    (Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors, rev. ed. Merriam-Webster, 1998)
  • Reduced Relatives: Non-Finite Clauses
    "The term reduced relative is widely used . . . for non-finite clauses which have the same function as 'full' relative clauses. Note that this is not the same as a contact clause, where only the relative pronoun is omitted. Examples (22) to (26) are . . . illustrations of non-finite relatives. . . . [T]he nominal group containing the relative clause is in italics and the relative clause is enclosed in double brackets.
    (22) Hot water taps draw their water from a pipe [[connected to the top of the hot water cylinder]].
    (23) Most of the arguments [[presented in favour of this position]] had little impact [...].
    (24) All pipes [[drawing water from a cold water cistern]] should be fitted with a stop valve.
    (25) Take off the circlip [[holding the shaft control lever]].
    (26) [...] fit a new oil seal into the clutch housing [[protecting the oil seal lip]].
    In these examples, then, the italicized structures have no Subject or Finite but they are clauses nevertheless: non-finite clauses. There is an obvious systematic relationship here to clauses with a relative pronoun as Subject and a Finite be. Try inserting that is/are/was/were at the start of each of the five relative clauses above. In some cases, you will find a neat fit, and in others the result is a little clumsy; but roughly speaking there is a correspondence."
    (Thomas Bloor and Meriel Bloor, The Functional Analysis of English, 3rd ed. Routledge, 2013)

    See also: