Grammar Quiz #11: Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Constructions

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following sentences, a lack of punctuation creates a mistaken impression about the relationship of a modifying word or phrase to the idea it modifies. Insert punctuation so that the relationship is clear.

1. The coach observed most of practice from a midfield tower where he could see all the action.

2. Unhappy with her previous 1,500-student high school, she transferred to the academy, which has just 120 students.

3. He mentioned another classroom project in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.

4. In the former schoolyard where tetherball once reigned, an outdoor patio now sports a restaurant.

5. Students wrote a third essay on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: The coach observed most of practice from a midfield tower where he could see all the action.
Correct : The coach observed most of practice from a midfield tower, where he could see all the action.

The sentence implies that more than one midfield tower exists, and the coach observed the action from one of them, but the meaning is that he did so from the one and only tower, so the inserted comma is essential.

2.
Original: Unhappy with her previous 1,500-student high school, she transferred to the academy, which has just 120 students.
Correct : Unhappy with her previous, 1,500-student high school, she transferred to the academy, which has just 120 students.

“Previous 1,500-student high school” indicates that the current school has the same number of schools as the previous one, which is contrary to the point of the sentence. A comma intervening between previous and “1,500-student high school” shows that the word and the phrase are independent of each other.

3.
Original: He mentioned another classroom project in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.
Correct : He mentioned another classroom project, in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.
Alterna.: He mentioned another classroom project, one in which students learned about trial procedures by acting out a mock trial.

Is the previous classroom project, the one implied by the use of another, did the students conduct a mock trial? If so, then no punctuation is necessary. But if the first classroom project did not involve a mock trial, “In the previous classroom project” must be set off by a comma to demonstrate that the project was not identical in format: (This distinction could be further clarified by inserting one after the comma.)

4.
Original: In the former schoolyard where tetherball once reigned, an outdoor patio now sports a restaurant.
Correct : In the former schoolyard, where tetherball once reigned, an outdoor patio now sports a restaurant.

A lack of punctuation between “former schoolyard” and “where tetherball once reigned” implies that two or more schoolyards are under discussion. But “where tetherball once reigned” describes the sole schoolyard.

5.
Original: Students wrote a third essay on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.
Correct : Students wrote a third essay, on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.
Alterna.: Students wrote a third essay, this one on the impact of geography on history and culture in light of our understanding of Smith’s works.

It’s possible that all three essays were on the same topic, but if the context contradicts this assumption, “third essay” must be set off from the topic description to indicate that the topic is specific to that essay alone.

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