PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Advanced English Grammar for ESL Learners (2011)
12 Restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses
This chapter deals with two topics: (1) the differences in meaning between restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses, and (2) the reduction of adjective clauses to participial phrases.
The differences in meaning between restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses
Adjective clauses play two very different roles. One role, called restrictive, signifi cantly affects the meaning of the noun it modifies by limiting or narrowing the meaning of that noun. (All of the examples that we examined in the previous chapter, “The structure of adjective clauses,” were restrictive.) Here is a clear-cut example of a restrictive adjective clause (underlined):
All students who fail the final exam will fail the course.
The restrictive adjective clause who fail the final exam signifi cantly narrows the meaning of student from all students to a specific subclass of students, namely, those students who fail the final exam. If we delete the restrictive adjective clause, it completely changes the meaning of the original sentence:
All students will fail the course.
Nonrestrictive adjective clauses, on the other hand, give additional information about the nouns they modify, but this information does not affect or alter the basic meaning of that noun. Typically, nonrestrictive adjective clauses give supplementary information. For example:
My parents, who live in a little town, enjoy visiting us in New York.
The nonrestrictive adjective clause who live in a little town does not define or limit who the speaker’s parents are. They would still be the speaker’s parents even if they did not live in a little town. If we delete the nonrestrictive adjective clause, the deletion does not change the basic meaning of the noun parents.
My parents enjoy visiting us in New York.
Obviously, the meaning contained in the nonrestrictive adjective clause is lost if we delete the clause. In this example, the information in the nonrestrictive clause gives an implied reason why the speaker’s parents enjoy visiting New York—they are from a small town and thus especially enjoy the things that can only be found in a large metropolitan area. However, the scope of the meaning of the noun phrase my parents is not changed by the deletion.
It is a mistake to think of the information in nonrestrictive clauses as being unimportant information. Sometimes it is quite important. The key distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses is the eff ect of the information on the nouns that they modify. If the information signifi cantly alters or narrows the meaning of the noun it modifies, then the modifier is restrictive. If it does NOT signifi cantly alter or narrow the meaning, then the modifier is nonrestrictive.
The distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses is signaled in both speech and writing. In speech, restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses have noticeably different phrasal groupings and intonation patterns.
Restrictive adjective clauses are pronounced in the same phrase unit with the nouns they modify. There is a distinct pause between the end of the restrictive adjective clause and the rest of the sentence. For example:
All students who fail the final exam | will fail the course.
(The symbol | indicates the boundary of a phrase unit.)
The entire unit consisting of the antecedent noun and the restrictive adjective clause phrase is said with a steady upward intonation that drops abruptly in pitch at the end of the restrictive adjective clause. In our example, the drop in pitch is after exam and before will.
Nonrestrictive adjective clauses are cut off by pauses at both the beginning and the end of the nonrestrictive clause. For example:
The entire nonrestrictive adjective clause is also said at a lower pitch level than the rest of the sentence. For example:
In the written language, the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses is marked by a difference in punctuation. Restrictive clauses are NEVER set off with commas, while nonrestrictive clauses are ALWAYS set off with commas. For example:
Here are some observations that may help you decide whether an adjective clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive.
Virtually all adjective clauses that modify proper nouns are nonrestrictive. Proper nouns name a unique individual, place, or thing. Therefore any modifying adjective does not provide defining information, only supplementary information.
Most restrictive adjective clauses define which person, place, or thing is being talked about. For example:
I need the names that you collected.
The adjective clause that you collected tells us which names the speaker is talking about. Without this information, we would have no idea which names the speaker means.
The best way to tell if an adjective clause is restrictive or not is to delete the adjective clause from the sentence and see if it changes the basic meaning of the sentence. If it does, the adjective clause is restrictive. If it does not, it is nonrestrictive.
Write “Rest” if the clause is restrictive and “Nonrest” if it is nonrestrictive. Then supply commas if the clause is nonrestrictive. The first question is done as an example.
The Sydney Opera House which is right on the harbor is world famous.
Nonrest The Sydney Opera House, which is right on the harbor, is world famous.
1. __________________ My car which is fifteen years old has never needed a major repair.
2. __________________ The car that is in front of us is leaking oil badly.
3. __________________ You should call your father who seemed very anxious to talk to you.
4. __________________ I just bumped into my high school math teacher whom I hadn’t seen in years.
5. __________________ The math teacher who taught me algebra in the ninth grade did a really good job.
6. __________________ The Congo River which crosses the equator twice flows both north and south.
7. __________________ There is only one man in town who can repair foreign cars.
8. __________________ The people whom we met at lunch seemed very nice.
9. __________________ The town where they live is about fifty miles from Seattle.
10. __________________ A police officer who seemed to come out of nowhere stopped all the traffic.
There are two differences between restrictive and nonrestrictive adjective clauses: (1) the use of that and which, and (2) the deletion of relative pronouns playing the role of objects of verbs in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. To see the differences, compare the following sentences.
In formal writing, that is reserved for restrictive adjective clauses and which for non-restrictive. Sometimes in less formal writing and often in conversation, that and which are both used in restrictive clauses, for example:
However, even in the most casual conversation that cannot be used in nonrestrictive clauses:
As was discussed in the previous chapter, relative pronouns that are used as objects of verbs can optionally be deleted, for example:
The option to delete an object relative pronoun is limited to restrictive adjective clauses. If we try to delete an object relative pronoun from a nonrestrictive clause, the result is ungrammatical. For example:
That, which, or Ø? The adjective clauses in the following sentences are underlined. Above the word Relative, use that, which, or Ø if the relative pronoun replaces the object of a verb. If the adjective is nonrestrictive, add commas as appropriate. The first question is done as an example.
1. The first layer of paint Relative was a white undercoat dried in less than an hour.
2. The snowstorm Relative we had been worrying about turned out to be nothing.
3. He called a meeting Relative is in confl ict with an important client session.
4. The mouse came out of a hole Relative I had never even noticed before.
5. My workday Relative was pretty long to begin with was extended thirty minutes.
6. His temperature Relative had now climbed to 103 degrees was beginning to scare us.
7. We need to rent a truck Relative is big enough to hold all this stuff.
8. During the concert, my cell phone Relative I had forgotten to turn off rang loudly.
9. He swatted hopelessly at a mosquito Relative was buzzing around our heads.
10. The only menus Relative the restaurant had were in Italian.
The reduction of adjective clauses to participial phrases
Adjective clauses of a certain type can be reduced to what are called participial phrases. Participial phrases contain either a present participle or a past participle. Here are some examples of participial phrases with the whole participial phrase underlined and the participle itself in bold:
Present participial phrase
We got a hotel room facing the beach.
The teacher, looking at the clock, brought the lesson to a close.
Past participial phrase
He always has pancakes smothered in maple syrup.
The team, unbeaten in its last ten games, made it to the playoff s.
Notice that some of the above examples of participial phrases are surrounded by commas and some are not. The ones with commas are restrictive participial phrases; the ones without commas are nonrestrictive participial phrases. When adjective clauses are reduced to participial phrases, the participial phrase inherits the restrictive or nonrestrictive status of its parent adjective phrase.
There is a very strict rule that governs which adjective clauses can be reduced and which cannot. To be reduced to a participial phrase, the adjective clause must contain the helping verb be (in some form) followed by either a present participle or a past participle.
The be + present participle sequence comes from a verb in the progressive tense. The be + past participle sequence comes from a verb in the passive.
Let us now compare the original relative clauses that were the source of the four participial phrase examples above:
To reduce an adjective clause to a participial phrase, we delete the relative pronoun and the helping verb be. For example:
Underline the adjective clauses in the following sentences and reduce the adjective clauses to participial phrases. The first question is done as an example.
He always likes french fries
that are smothered in ketchup.
1. The course, which is required for all new employees, is offered every month.
2. The books that are required for the course may be purchased at the office.
3. Drivers who are renewing their licenses after January 1 must take an eye exam.
4. We talked to the reporter who was covering the story.
5. All of the children who were born after 2004 have been vaccinated.
6. He is always looking for stocks that are selling at historically low prices.
7. The company, which was once nearly destroyed by labor disputes, is now doing well.
8. The mechanic found the problem that was causing the car to suddenly lose power.
9. Sunlight that was reflected off the building was blinding drivers on the highway.
10. Her first book, which was published when she was only twenty, became a bestseller.
Some present participial phrases are probably not formed directly from reduced adjective clauses because the verb that is the source of the participle cannot be used in the progressive. For example:
The verb see is a stative verb, and stative verbs cannot be used in the progressive tenses. (See Chapter 6, “Talking about present time,” for a discussion of stative verbs.) However, present participial phrases with stative verbs are perfectly grammatical:
Presumably at some time in the past, people began using stative verbs in participial phrases in imitation of regular participial phrases formed from reduced adjective clauses.
Nonrestrictive participial phrases of all kinds have a unique property: they can be moved away from the nouns they modify. (No other noun modifier of any kind can do this.) For example, compare the following pairs of participial phrases, the first in its normal position following the noun it modifies and then the same participial phrase shifted.
Typically, participles modifying the subject are the ones that are moved. Usually, the participial phrase is shifted to the beginning of the sentence, but as you can see in the second example above, sometimes the participial phrase can be shifted to the far end of the sentence.
Restrictive participial phrases cannot be shifted. For example:
Participial phrases modifying personal pronouns are often shifted. For example:
When the pronoun is a first-person pronoun, shift ing the participial phrase is virtually mandatory. For example:
Underline the participial phrases in the following sentences. If the participial phrase is nonrestrictive, move it to an appropriate place. Be sure to add the necessary commas. The first question is done as an example.
My parents hearing the good news called to congratulate us.
My parents, hearing the good news, called to congratulate us.
Hearing the good news, my parents called to congratulate us.
1. The new apple developed to be pest-resistant has proved a commercial success.
2. Many college students living on their own for the first time incur far too much debt._____________________________________
3. She rushing to answer the phone slipped on the rug and fell. __________________
4. Someone walking past the house noticed the smoke. __________________
5. I having no background in the matter whatsoever stayed out of the debate. _________
6. Children just beginning to walk cannot be left alone for a minute. __________________
7. The man stopping dead in his tracks stared at us in amazement. __________________
8. A person involved in the dispute cannot offer an impartial opinion. __________________
9. We presented with such an unusual opportunity decided to act at once. __________________
10. The police acting on an anonymous tip arrested the gang leader. __________________