Priceless Writing TipsNo More Problems with Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Clauses

restrictive and non-restrictive clausesHello, writers’ world! What’s up?

Do you have a couple of minutes? We need to talk.

Yes, I know that, when somebody starts like this, it usually means trouble. This is not the case now, though. We need to talk about restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, the dilemma of choosing between ‘who’, ‘which’ and ‘that’ and where to place commas. I guess everyone had enough trouble with these clauses and has something to say about them.


Keep an Eye on Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Clauses

Here is an example: “Bill Clinton, who was a former President, was not a good family man.” (emm… or that was a President or which was a President?)

Do you agree that restrictive and non-restrictive clauses are one of those tricky cases when a comma means everything? Sometimes it changes the meaning, and sometimes it is a must.

Let’s finally make ourselves clear with these clauses, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. Here are some clues:

Restrictive clauses Non-restrictive clauses
Punctuation no yes
Importance essential, can’t be omitted non-essential, can be omitted
Linking words wh words, that or no linking word wh words

It’s pretty simple. When the information is essential, it is a part of the sentence and we don’t separate it from the rest of the sentence. When it is non-essential, we use punctuation for readers’ convenience.

As to the sentence discussed above, the right variant is “Bill Clinton, who was a former President, was not a good family man.” The extra information from a non-restrictive clause doesn’t add much value.

Restrictive: The girl who was reading a book on the bus was my ex-girlfriend. (Who was reading a book on the bus is a restrictive clause. It is absolutely necessary for understanding the meaning of the sentence. If there are a lot of girls on the bus, this clause can’t be omitted.)

Non-Restrictive: Sarah Jones, with whom I go to the gym on Fridays, is a drama teacher. (With whom I go to the gym on Fridays is a non-restrictive clause. There is the name of the person, and the clause offers ‘extra’, non-essential information.)

By the way, do you play a guessing game when choosing between ‘who’ and ‘that’? It’s ok, most people actually do. It is just that some of them think it is embarrassing to admit it openly.

In fact, everything is pretty simple. It is always ‘who’ for a person and ‘that’ or ‘which’ for inanimate objects. That’s it.

Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Clauses: Identification Algorithm

So, everything seems to be clear. Here I’ve got an algorithm for recognizing restrictive and non-restrictive clauses and making informed decisions.

Am I missing something from this algorithm? Please, leave your comments below.