Grammar Quiz #21: Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Clauses

By Mark Nichol - 2 minute read

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A nonrestrictive clause is a subordinate clause that may be left out of a sentence without significantly altering the meaning expressed by the main clause. In a restrictive clause, on the other hand, the information is related to a word in the main clause. Nonrestrictive clauses are set off by commas; restrictive clauses are not. Add commas where needed in the following sentences.

1. Edward Johnson who has been accepted by several colleges will go to Harvard this fall.

2. We are looking for someone who went to Harvard.

3. I see you are wearing the jacket that Mother bought you for Christmas last year.

4. Mr. Hawkins who is an avid antique car enthusiast bought a 1929 Ford coupe.

5. People who are uncomfortable in crowds shouldn’t go to the movie theater.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Edward Johnson who has been accepted by several colleges will go to Harvard this fall.
Correct : Edward Johnson, who has been accepted by several colleges, will go to Harvard this fall.

The nonrestrictive clause “who has been accepted by several colleges” needs commas. The important information is that Edward Johnson will go to Harvard. His being accepted elsewhere doesn’t affect this information.

2.
Original: We are looking for someone who went to Harvard.
Correct : We are looking for someone who went to Harvard.

This is a restrictive clause, so no commas are needed. The “who went to Harvard” tells what kind of “someone” is wanted.

3.
Original: I see you are wearing the jacket that Mother bought you for Christmas last year.
Correct : I see you are wearing the jacket that Mother bought you for Christmas last year.

The clause “that Mother bought you for Christmas last year” is a restrictive clause identifying which particular jacket is being worn. No commas are needed.

4.
Original: Mr. Hawkins who is an avid antique car enthusiast bought a 1929 Ford coupe.
Correct : Mr. Hawkins, who is an avid antique car enthusiast, bought a 1929 Ford coupe.

The clause “who is an avid antique car enthusiast” is nonrestrictive. Commas are needed to set it off. The fact that Mr. Hawkins is an antique car enthusiast is secondary and dispensable information. Anyone with the money could buy a 1929 Ford coupe.

5.
Original: People who are uncomfortable in crowds shouldn’t go to the movie theater.
Correct : People who are uncomfortable in crowds shouldn’t go to the movie theater.

The restrictive clause “who are uncomfortable in crowds” doesn’t need commas. It identifies the people who shouldn’t go to the movie theater.

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