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.

What Are Restrictive and Non-restrictive Clauses in English?

What Are Restrictive and Non-restrictive Structures?

A restrictive clause, also known as an essential clause, defines or restricts the meaning of the noun or pronoun it modifies and is necessary to the sentence's meaning. It provides essential information that is needed to identify the person, place, or thing being referred to.
A non-restrictive clause, also known as a non-essential clause, provides additional but non-essential information about the noun or pronoun it modifies. It is not necessary to the sentence's meaning and can be removed without changing the sentence's overall meaning.

Restrictive and Non-restrictive Structures: 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

At times relative clauses are necessary to provide a precise description of something and using them makes a difference in the meaning of the sentence. Here are some 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.

Appositives as Non-restrictive Phrases

Relative Clauses as Non-restrictive Clauses

Relative clauses can sometimes include unessential information about a noun, and in these cases, they are set off by commas. Removing them from the sentence would not affect the sentence's meaning or grammatical correctness. Here are a few examples:

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

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

American English or British English?

In American English, 'that' is considered a restrictive relative pronoun and does not require a comma, while 'which' is typically considered non-restrictive and requires a comma. However, in British English, "which" can be used for both restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses. It is important to note that the rules for using "that" remain the same in both American and British English.

Punctuation Rules

Keep in mind that restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas, this means that they do not need any commas on either side. On the other hand, non-restrictive relative clauses are used between two commas when they are used in the middle of the sentence and 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.

A restrictive clause does not need any commas.

My friend, whose car is blue, passed the test easily.

A non-restrictive clause used in the middle of the sentence.

I called John, who wasn’t invited to the party anyway.

A non-restrictive clause used at the end of the sentence, preceded by a comma.

Appositives as Restrictive Phrases

Appositives are typically used to provide additional information and are not essential to the sentence's meaning. However, when referring to a specific member of a group, a proper noun may be used as a restrictive appositive to clarify the reference. Here are the examples:

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

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

In this example, the person has more than one brother and uses a proper noun as an appositive to clarify which one is being talked about.

Appositives as Non-restrictive Phrases

Non-restrictive appositive nouns or noun phrases provide additional information but are not essential to the sentence's meaning. Omitting them from the sentence would not affect the sentence's meaning or cause any difficulty in understanding it. 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; when they are used in the middle of the sentence, they are set off by two commas on either side; and when they appear at the end of a sentence, they are preceded by a comma. Check out the examples:

The last station, Raven Blue, is my stop.

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


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