Lessons Learned #3

The Non-restrictive and Restrictive Clause

There is a saying in Dutch – alles mag, niets moet – that translates as ‘Anything goes, nothing must be done.’ Hmm, somehow it doesn’t sound the same in English. But what I wanted to say with it is that this isn’t so in grammar. In grammar it is more likely to use the phrase ‘Anything you say can and will be used against you!’ Have a look at these two sentences.

Example 1: I ate all the cake that was chocolate.

Example 2: I ate all the cake, which was chocolate.

In the first example it is clear that I only ate cake that was chocolate cake; not the vanilla cake, not the carrot cake or any other type of cake. That was chocolate is the restrictive clause (remember the clause; it has a subject and a verb). It could, however, be all the chocolate cake around; the one on my plate, the one on your plate and even all the cake on the cake stand. If you don’t want to sound bulimic you will have to add some more restrictions into the sentence.

In the second example, the main clause implies I ate all the cake; vanilla, carrot and chocolate alike. The second part of the sentence, which was chocolate, can be left out. It just lets you know that all the cake there was happens to be chocolate cake, but this is non-essential. I still ate all the cake. Hence this clause is a non-restrictive clause. It just leaves you wondering who took the vanilla and carrot cake before you came into the room…

You may have noticed in these two examples that there are slight differences. The first one is the use of a comma in example 2. This is the rule for non-restrictive clauses; they are separated from the main clause by at least one comma. If the non-restrictive clause is in the middle of a sentence, as it is in this sentence, there is a comma before and after it. If it is at the end of a sentence, there is a comma in front of it. You know it is a non-restrictive clause if, when you take it out of the sentence, the main clause still has the same meaning. Try it yourself with this previous sentence. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The second difference is that in example 1 I used the word that and in example 2 I used the word which. This is another differentiation between a restrictive and non-restrictive clause. If you use that, you introduce a restrictive clause (and hence no commas). If you use which, you introduce a non-restrictive clause and it should be separated from the main clause by a comma (or two, depending on the location in the sentence).

Now where is that carrot cake…?

Have a Wonderful Writing Week(end)!

PS: If anybody notices that I’ve got something wrong, please let me know. I have no proper literary education and get all my information from the internet.

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