Restrictive and Non-restrictive Clauses

Restrictive clauses and phrases are necessary while non-restrictive clauses are not necessary for the sentence to have a meaningful thought.

Intermediate
What Are Restrictive and Non-restrictive Clauses in English?

What Are Restrictive and Non-restrictive Structures?

When we use the term 'restrictive' for the elements in a group, we mean that the part is essential for the sentence (whether to complete its meaning semantically or to complete it grammatically).
Non-restrictive parts of a sentence are the ones that can be omitted from the sentence without causing any harm to the formation or meaning of it.

Restrictive and Non-restrictive Clauses and Phrases: Types

There are two types of restrictive and non-restrictive structures:

Relative clauses and appositives are nominal and adjectival structures that are used to give further information about a noun.

Relative Clauses as Restrictive Clauses

Sometimes using a relative clause is needed to have an exact description about something and using them makes a difference in the meaning of the sentence. Here are the examples:

The man who invited you to my birthday party is my uncle.

Those books which are on the seventh shelf are supposed to be sent to Amanda.

Relative Clauses as Non-restrictive Clauses

Sometimes using the relative clause provides unnecessary information about a noun, so they are set off by commas, and omitting them from the sentence would not cause any harm. Here are a few examples that might help learn them better:

Sam, whose car was stolen last week, is going to Roma with his family.

These nice people are all friends of mine, who are college graduates.

American English or British English?

American rule considers 'that' as a restrictive relative pronoun which is not preceded by a comma, while 'which' is considered non-restrictive.
However, in British English 'which' can be both restrictive and non-restrictive. Remember the rules for 'that' stay the same in both languages.

Punctuation Rules

Remember restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas, this means that they do not have any commas on both sides, but non-restrictive relative clauses are used between commas when they are used in the middle of the sentence. They are preceded by a comma when they are used at the end of the sentence. Here are a few examples:

The girl whose eyes are ocean blue is the one who killed Sarah. → restrictive

My friend, whose car is blue, passed the test easily. → non-restrictive

I called John, who wasn’t invited to the party anyway. → non-restrictive

Appositives as Restrictive Phrases

Appositives do not usually give important information; however, when we are referring to one particular member of a group, we use a proper noun as a restrictive noun. Here are the examples:

My friend, Hanna, wants to make a good impression on her boyfriend.

Here, the person has more than one friend.

My brother, Sam, wanted to buy a new house.

In this example, the person has more than one brother.

Appositives as Non-restrictive Phrases

Non-restrictive appositive nouns or noun phrases are used to give more information; but omitting them from the sentence would not make any harm or difficulty in understanding the meaning of the sentence. Check out the examples:

Marta, my sister-in-law, seems to be pregnant.

The best chef ever in this area, my dad, wants to find a new mixture for the sauce.

Punctuation Rules

When non-restrictive appositive nouns or noun phrases are used at the beginning of a sentence, they are followed by a comma, at the middle position they are set off by commas and at the end of a sentence, they are preceded by a comma. Check out the examples:

The tall man standing over there, my best friend, is really mad at me.

The last station, Raven Blue, is my stop.

I bought the chocolate you like, Hershey's chocolate.

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