Monday, May 7, 2007

Grammar: Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them (Part 4 - No comma in nonrestrictive relative clauses)

A restrictive clause is essential to the sentence. A non-restrictive clause is not. Restrictive clauses restrict the meaning of the word that’s being modified, and these do not need commas. The word “that” is used often to identify a restrictive clause. For example, in “I found a case that was on point,” “that” and the words after restrict “case” to “a case on point.”

A nonrestrictive clause does not restrict any words in the sentence but merely adds to it. The sentence itself is more general. These require commas and are identified by the use of the word “which.” In other words, nonrestrictive clauses enhance the sentence but are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
In the example below, adding “which was hard to find” clarifies what kind of case was being sought, but it is not essential to the sentence. It could just as easily be placed in another sentence.

The associate needed a case dealing with loss of consortium, which was hard to find.

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