Punctuation of Relative Clauses

Introduction

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 Follow below as we discuss COMMAS and RELATIVE (adjective) CLAUSES.

To view the prior lesson, 'Run-ons with 'however'', click here.

Before you begin the activities, you may want to study the lesson, Adjectives and Adjective Clauses, also in our Library.

 

Combining Sentences

Combining sentences using a

You can combine sentences in many ways. Combining them with a coordinator (and, or, but, so) is one way which we have discussed in our unit "Compound Sentences".  Sometimes the best way to combine two or more sentences into one sentence is by using a relative pronoun (that, who, whose, when, where, whom) and creating a relative (adjective) clause.

There are two types of relative (adjective) clauses, restrictive and non-restrictive, and they have the same sentence structure (words and word order) but are punctuated differently.

Native speakers of English and those learning English common make errors punctuating relative clauses, so let's first take the time to discuss each type.

 

Restrictive Relative Clause

What is a restrictive relative clause? How is it punctuated?

In a restrictive relative clause, the writer needs to include the information in the relative clause for withouth that information the reader would not know exactly whom or what the writer is referring to. That is, the information in the relative clase is essential to the reader's understanding of the noun reference.

There are no commas before or after the restrictive adjective clause.

  • One sculpture on campus is of a girl who is sitting and reading a book.

There are many sculptures on campus and the one that this writer is referring to is of a girl who is sitting and reading a book.  Without the relative clause, the sentence would not make much sense.

  • One sculpture on campus is of a girl.

  This is a meaningless sentence. The critical information is that the girl is sitting and reading a book.

Nonrestrictive Relative Clauses

What is a nonrestrictive adjective clause? How is it punctuated?

In a non-restrictive relative clause, the writer does not need to include the information in the relative clause for the reader to know exactly whom or what the writer is referring to. That is, the information in the relative clase is not essential to the reader's understanding of the noun reference; it is supplementary.  The writer could eliminate the arelative clause and the reader would still know about whom or what the writer is referring to.

There must be a comma before and after the restrictive adjective clause.

  • My father, who was living in America at that time, came to pick me up from the airport.

The writer has one father. Without the adjective clause, the sentence would read:

  • My father came to pick me up from the airport.

The sentence would still make complete sense.

The Reader's Point of View

Considering the readers' point of view

Most writing includes adjective clauses.  When writing early drafts and editing your writing, consider the reader's point of view. Does the reader know exactly to whom you are referring in each adjective clause?  Could you remove the adjective clause and the reader's ability to understand not suffer? What is clear to you, the writer, may not be clear to the reader.  Consider the reader's point of view and puncutate accordingly.

 

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Click here for Punctuating a Relative Clause: Power Edit #3.

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