3 Cases of Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Confusion

By Mark Nichol

In each of the sentences below, a phrase is erroneously treated as essential or nonessential to the statement when, based on the context, it should be the reverse. An explanation and a revision follows each example.

1. A number of factors are at play for the industry, including the UK’s Brexit vote that continues to have an impact on financial markets.

Here, the implication is that two or more Brexit votes occurred, though only one continues to have an impact on financial markets. But “continues to have an impact on financial markets” is merely an explanatory phrase describing a consequence of the Brexit vote, only one of which occurred, so the explanation should be framed in a subordinate clause set off by a comma and beginning with which: “A number of factors are at play for the industry, including the UK’s Brexit vote, which continues to have an impact on financial markets.”

2. The company is a growing business-to-business payments provider, which has been established by a collaboration of banks.

Because the company is only one of many such businesses, the phrase describing by whom it was established is essential to the statement, so that phrase should not be set off as a subordinate clause: “The company is a growing B2B payments provider that has been established by a collaboration of banks.” (However, the statement can be made more succinctly: “The company is a growing business-to-business payments provider established by a collaboration of banks.”)

3. Offshore finance changed forever in April 2016 with the leak of 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm which specializes in the formation and management of entities in tax havens.

Here, again, the description is essential to the sentence, so it is correctly treated as integral to the sentence and not set off by a comma. However, for additional clarity, that should replace which: “Offshore finance changed forever in April 2016 with the leak of 11.5 million documents from Mossack Fonseca, a Panama-based law firm that specializes in the formation and management of entities in tax havens.”

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2 Responses to “3 Cases of Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Confusion”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Lots of writers have trouble with correct phases like “Panamanian-based” and also with ones like the “Canadian-American border”, the “Mexican-American border”, and “Russian-American international relations”. They just do not get it about the adjectives.
    See you at the next Canadian-American ice hockey game in the Olympics. Will it be a men’s game or a women’s game?

  • Agua Caliente

    “…a Panama-based law firm that specializes in the formation and management of entities in tax havens.”

    Could also say, “a Panama-based law firm specializing in…”
    I think that the “that” construct might be preferable [a bit stronger?], but alternatives are often worth considering.

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