Saturday, September 8, 2012

Non-defining relative clauses, sentential relative clauses and connective relative clauses

This post looks at non-defining relative clauses, also known as non-restrictive relative clauses, and a couple of very similar structures: sentential relative clauses and connective or coordinate relative clauses.
As these are very similar in construction, they are usually all treated as non-defining relative clauses in EFL/ESL. So for most foreign learners it won't be necessary to learn or remember the terms sentential and connective. But judging by comments in ESL forums, there are some students who are taught these terms, so hopefully this post will be able to clarify things a bit.
This post mainly consists of exercises, and we'll start by looking at the differences between defining and non-defining relative clauses.

The difference between defining and non-defining relative clauses

I'm not going to be talking about defining relative clauses in this post, but here's a couple of exercises to remind you of the differences.

Exercise 1 - Decide whether these rules apply to defining or non-defining

DefiningNon-defining
1.Identifies a noun or noun phrase
2.Adds non-essential information to a noun or noun phrase
3.Is set off from the main clause with commas (or pauses in speech)
4.Can be used with that as well as who, which, whose etc
5.The relative pronoun cannot be omitted
6.Is found more in writing than in spoken language
7.Can include phrases like at which point
8.Is also known as a restrictive relative clause
Exercise 2Decide whether these unpunctuated sentences are defining or non-defining.
DefiningNon-defining
1.This is the man who I was talking about
2.That man over there is Martin who works in my department
3.Peter who is our new manager will be introducing the project
4.We chose the cooker which would go best with our kitchen
5.We bought a new sofa which looks really good in the sitting room
6.We finally reached the town at which point it started to rain
7.Have you seen that book which Auntie sent me
8.You know. The one which I was talking about earlier
9.There were thirty students most of whom had come from Japan
10.He told us this silly joke which I'd heard lots of times before
11.That's our new English teacher who flew in yesterday from Korea
12.That's the woman who is going to teach us English

Change in meaning

Sometimes the same sentence can have different meanings depending on whether the relative clause is defining or non-defining.
Exercise 3Look at these two sentence and then answer the questions that follow.
  1. The cyclists who were tired stopped to have a rest.
  2. The cyclists, who were tired, stopped to have a rest.
AllSomeNone
1.In the first sentence, who stopped to have a rest?
2.In the second sentence, who stopped to have a rest?
3.In the first sentence, who continued cycling?
4.In the second sentence, who continued cycling?

Punctuation in non-defining relative clauses.

Exercise 4Click on the 'Load exercise' button, then add commas to the sentences in the appropriate places.
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Non-defining relative clauses - five patterns

Because there seems to be quite a bit of overlap between sentential and connective relative clauses I think it's more useful to think of there being five patterns of non-defining relative clause.
  1. Relative clauses which give us additional information about a noun or noun phrase and are introduced with a relative pronoun. These are classic non-defining relative clauses.
  2. Relative clauses which comment on the whole of the previous clause rather than on a noun, and are usually introduced with which. These are sometimes called sentential relative clauses.
  3. Relative clauses which introduce a new idea about a noun or noun phrase, linked to the previous clause with a relative pronoun. These are sometimes called connective or coordinate relative clauses.
  4. Relative clauses which introduce a new idea about the whole of the previous clause, and are usually introduced with which. These could be seen as being both sentential and connective.
  5. Relative clauses which introduce a new idea about the previous clause, linked with expressions like in which case, at which time etc. These usually refer to the whole or part of the previous clause rather than to a noun phrase.

1. Giving us extra information about a noun or noun phrase.

The standard non-defining relative clause. Compared with defining relative clauses, these are fairly straightforward. There is no use of that, and you don't have to worry about when the relative pronoun can be omitted, because it never can.
  • who - for people when the relative pronoun refers to the subject of the relative clause
  • whom - for people when the relative pronoun refers to the object of the relative clause. This is rather formal, and who is usually used instead. But whom must be used when the relative pronoun follows a preposition.
  • which - for things in both subject and object position
  • whose - to say something belongs to a person. Can also be used for things, especially countries, cities, organisations etc.
We can also use relative adverbs:
  • where, meaning at which place
  • when, meaning at which time or on which day
Exercise 5Click on the 'Load exercise' button, choose one of the pieces of information listed for each sentence. Add who, which, whose, where or when, making any changes necessary, and put the resulting non-defining relative clause in an appropriate place in the sentence, remembering to add commas where necessary.
  • They came from all over the country
  • It is expected to be completed in two years time
  • We have our next meeting then.
  • It is set in 19th century England
  • It's population is over 1000 million
  • I shared a flat with her son at university
  • They are mainly academics
  • We had spent our honeymoon there all those years ago
  • He married her in 1975
  • They affected much of the country
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A note on whom

We can use who or whom when it is the object of the relative clause, or the object of a preposition when that preposition is moved to a position after the verb.
  • This is our new neighbour, who(m) I met yesterday.
  • Peter Jackson, who(m) I was talking to you about, has just been promoted.
Whom is really rather formal, and we hardly ever use it like this in spoken English. I wouldn't even use it in written English, but there could possibly be occasions where this level of formality is expected. Putting a preposition before the relative pronoun is even more formal and rather stilted. But if you do, whom is obligatory.
  • I'm writing to my aunt, from whom I received this beautiful scarf. (very formal)
  • I'm writing to my aunt, who I received this beautiful scarf from. (more natural)
  • Martin Spencer, to whom I was talking only yesterday, has resigned. (very formal)
  • Martin Spencer, who I was talking to only yesterday, has resigned. (more natural)
There are times, however, when the use of whom is unavoidable, and we'll look at that in the next section.

All of whom, some of which etc

When we want to add information about a part or the whole of a certain group of people or things, we use an expression like all or some plus of, then whom for people and which for things. We cannot use who instead of whom here, and in fact whom sounds quite natural in this context.
  • The students, all of whom were studying for the CAE, had come from all over the world.
  • The stolen cars, some of which had been damaged, have now all been recovered by the police.
Words this happens with include:
  • all, some, none
  • most, many, much, few, little
  • both, neither, each
  • expressions like several, a couple, hardly any etc
  • numbers - one, two, three etc
  • superlatives - the biggest etc
Exercise 6Write each pair of sentences as one, using non-defining relative clauses starting with the underlined word(s), as in the sentences above.
1. I have two brothers. Both of them are married.
2. The bedrooms are quite spacious. Each bedroom has its own bathroom.
3. Our neighbours are very friendly. We know many of our neighbours quite well.
4. There were a lot of people at the party. I had met hardly any of them before.
5. We attached the bicycles to the roof rack. Three of the bicycles belonged to the children.
6. He has written several novels. A couple of them are really excellent.
7. I and my two friends spent a wonderful holiday in Corsica. Neither of them had been there before.
8. The book took me a long time to finish. I found much of it hard to follow.
9. Branches of the shop can be found all over the country. The biggest branch is in Liverpool.
10. They arranged hotel accommodation for the conference delegates. Most of the delegates had travelled a long way.

2. Referring to the whole clause - sentential relative clauses

So far we've mainly been looking at relative clauses which tell us something about a noun or noun phrase. But we can also use a relative clause to refer to the whole situation of the first clause. These are usually introduced with which and are sometimes known as sentential relative clauses. They are often a comment of some sort on the situation.
  • He gave us the evening off, which was a bit of a surprise.
Sometimes this can be a separate sentence, or even a comment by someone else.
  • He gave us the evening off. Which was a bit of a surprise.
  • A: He gave us the evening off.
  • B: Which was a bit of a surprise, considering the circumstances.
A second type of sentential clause, rather than commenting on the first clause, introduces a new idea.
  • He gave us the evening off, which meant I was able to catch up on some reading.
  • She introduced me to real coffee, which is why I've always loved
We'll look at this second type when we look at connective relative clauses.
Exercise 7These sentences have had all their commas removed. Tick (check) those sentences which refer to the whole of the previous clause rather than to a noun or noun phrase. In other words tick the sentences which include a sentential relative clause.
Yes
1.They had met at the student union bar which was where she had a part time job.
2.They started chatting which eventually led to him asking her out.
3.She agreed to go out with him which pleased him no end.
4.He took her to Dino's restaurant which happened to be one of his favourites.
5.As a starter she ordered some pasta which came in a basil sauce.
6.She let him choose the wine which made him feel important.
7.They talked about films which they had seen recently.
8.She seemed to enjoy his company which was quite encouraging.
9.But then she started talking about Jean de Florette which she had just seen on television.
10.He didn't know anything about French films which made him a bit nervous.
11.So he started talking about football which was his favourite subject.
12.Now it was her turn her turn to feel a bit left out which he spotted immediately.
13.And he quickly changed the subject again which was probably just as well.
14.After dinner he suggested a leisurely stroll along the beach which they both found quite invigorating.
15.And as he left her at her doorstep he gave her a lingering kiss which she returned enthusiastically.

3. Using relative pronouns as general-purpose connectors - connective relative clauses (aka coordinate relative clauses)

Standard relative clauses are subordinate clauses; they are dependent on a main clause. But there is one type of relative clause which acts more like a coordinate clause. Look at these two sentences:
  • Margie gave the details of the conference to Peter. Peter passed the information on to George.
We could join these sentences together with a coordinating conjunction like and.
  • Margie gave the details of the conference to Peter, and Peter passed the information on to George.
Or we can link the two clauses with a relative pronoun. The second clause is then sometimes known as a connective or coordinating relative clause.
  • Margie gave the details of the conference to Peter, who passed the information on to George.
We can use this to refer to a noun, as in the following examples, or to the whole first clause as in the next section.
  • I'd like you to meet Vanessa, who will be taking over from Denis. (= ... (and) she will be taking over from Denis)
  • At the front of the car is the radiator, which cools the engine. (= ... (and) this cools the engine)
We can also use the relative adverbs where and when
  • I'll drop you off at the hotel, where Sandy will probably be waiting for us.
  • We won't know any more until tomorrow, when the results are published.
While standard non-defining relative clauses are used much more in writing than in spoken English, these connective relative clauses are quite common in spoken language. I have written a separate post about them (link below), and the next two exercises are taken from that post.
Exercise 8Complete each sentence (1-8) with a coordinate relative clause starting with who or which, using the sentences (a-h) below and making any necessary changes. If you make a mistake you can reload each sentence by clicking on the '<' button.
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aShe is going to use the money to study Amazonian wildlife.
bHe needed this for a dish he was making.
cI understood he would be passing it on to you.
dThis would have qualified him for a really good job.
eShe says she had already spoken to you about this
fShe said this would go very well with several of his shirts.
gHe advised her to wait a bit before she made a decision.
hHe was just on his way to his new job.

4. Using which as a general-purpose connector to link two clauses.

We can use which to introduce new information, while referring back to the whole of the previous clause:
  • It's getting a bit late. This means we should get a taxi.
  • It's getting a bit late, which means we should get a taxi.
Exercise 9Complete each sentence (1-8) with a connective relative clause starting with which, using the sentences (a-h) below and making any necessary changes. If you make a mistake you can reload the sentence by clicking on the '<' button.
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aThis should make getting to work a lot easier.
bThis has resulted in less demand for electricity.
cThis has caused long delays on the roads.
dThis means profits will be lower than expected.
eThis has caused a lot of unemployment.
fThis was hardly my impression.
gThis explains why he never called back.
hThis was the least I could do in the circumstances.

Using which after prepositions in connective clauses

Sometimes we use a construction with which after a preposition or phrase with a preposition.
  • Apparently he was asked to leave. At this he lost his temper.
  • Apparently he was asked to leave, at which he lost his temper.
  • This road is in a terrible state. The responsibility for this lies with the local council
  • This road is in a terrible state, the responsibility for which lies with the local council
Exercise 10Complete each sentence (1-8) with one of the sentences below a connective relative clause (a-h), connecting them with a preposition or prepositional phrase followed by which. If you make a mistake you can reload each sentence by clicking on the '<' button.
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aAs a result of this we've lowered our year-end targets.
bAfter this we'll go for a spot of sightseeing.
cAt this the audience went wild.
dDespite this we had a really good time.
eBehind this you can just see the local cricket green.
fApart from this everything's gone really well.

5. Using which as a determiner to link two clauses - at which point etc

We can use which before a noun in a non-defining relative clause, when that noun is a general noun in some way repeating the meaning of what is being modified.
Sometimes a relative clause like this is used after a noun (or noun phrase), although this is rather formal:
  • He was given a peerage, in which honour he took great pride.
  • She is fluent in French, which language I can only speak with difficulty.
More often they refer to the whole situation in the first clause and are used with prepositions in certain fixed expressions, especially with case, point and time.
  • He had met her in Nairobi in 1995, by which time she had already been in Africa for ten years.
  • The atmosphere started to get a bit heated, at which point I thought it better to leave.
  • He stayed there for ten years, during which time he got to know a lot of his neighbours.
  • Their train may be late, in which case we'll have to leave before they get here.
Exercise 11Underline the correct option. Click on an option to underline it. Then add one of the following prepositions into each gap - at, by, in, during
1. It looks as though it might rain, which case / which point we could go to a museum.
2. It was one complaint after another. Then she started to argue about the bill, which case / which time I had had more than enough, so I left.
3. I worked for another hour or so, which case / which point I decided it was time to go home.
4. We had been waiting for a waiter for some thirty minutes, which point / which time several other customers had arrived and had their orders taken.
5. We didn't know about her birthday until the day after, which point / which case it was of course too late to do anything about it.
6. I first met her in the eighties, which time / which point I was working in Paris.
7. He started to behave rather badly, which time / which point she thought it was best to leave.
8. There may only be two of us, which case / which point we can go in your car.
  • Prepositions:
  • Expressions:

Don't confuse what and which

Look at these sentences
  • For Christmas his parents gave him a new bicycle, which he had asked for.
  • For Christmas his parents gave him what he had asked for, a new bicycle
  • He passed all his exams, which made his parents very happy.
  • He knew what would make his parents very happy: passing all his exams.
In the first of each pair of sentences, which refers back to something (its antecedent): a noun phrase in the first pair, and the whole clause in the second.
But in the second of each pair, what does not refer back to anything, it has no antecedent - the 'thing' is included in the word what, which means something like the thing which or that which. This is known as a nominal relative clause (because it behaves like a noun). You can read more about them im my post linked to below.
Exercise 12Complete the text by filling the gaps with either which or what
He rang me to tell me I had won the competition, was great news and was just I had been hoping to hear. The competition, I had entered a couple of weeks before, involved solving a puzzle had been published in one of my favourite magazines. At first I couldn't believe he was saying, because I didn't think my answer could possibly be correct. But then he told me I had won first prize, was a holiday for two in the Caribbean, and on a cruise ship, I had never been on before. I had to decide now was who to invite, could be quite tricky. I was dating two girls at the time, admittedly caused a few problems. But luckily one of them, Susan, had also entered the competition, was a bit of a coincidence. Amazingly she had won second prize, was a holiday at a beauty farm. It was at the time seemed like a stroke of luck, and left me free to ask the other one, Patricia, I did immediately. But she turned me down. had happened was that Susan had suggested to Patricia that she go to the beauty farm too, surprised me a bit as I didn't even know that they knew each other. So now I'm stuck with nobody to ask, I suppose serves me right really. That's what happens when you try to play the field.

Reducing non-defining relative clauses

When a non-defining relative clause includes an -ing form or past participle, we can sometimes reduce it by missing out the pronoun and the auxiliary be.
  • Peter, (who was) concentrating on his work, didn't hear the doorbell.
  • The young woman, (who was) living abroad at that time, didn't see her family very often.
  • The book, (which was) first published in 1970, has sold over a million copies.
  • Martha, (who was) brought up in the inner city, had never seen a cow before.
But very often we use an adverbial participle clause instead.
  • Concentrating on his work, Peter didn't hear the doorbell.
  • Living abroad at that time, the young woman didn't see her family very often.
  • First published in 1970, the book has sold over a million copies.
  • Brought up in the inner city, Martha had never seen a cow before.
We can omit the relative pronoun and the verb be when they are followed by descriptive noun phrases. These can include adverbial expressions like now, then, already etc.
  • Peter Donaldson, (who is) our manager, graduated in chemical engineering.
  • Last year's prize was won by Jenny MacDonald, (who was) at that time still a student.
  • Glasgow, (which is) the largest city in Scotland, lies on the River Clyde.
  • One of Glasgow's jewels is the Merchant City, (which is) now a thriving cultural district.

Using participle clauses for results

In the type of sentence we looked at in 4, where the relative clause gives some new information about the whole of the first clause, the relative clause is often about a result of some sort. Verbs commonly used are result in, mean, lead to, suggest etc.
  • We have been having rather wet weather recently, which has resulted in an increase in the sale of umbrellas.
  • David couldn't make it to the meeting, which meant that I had to sit in for him.
  • Young people don't spend so much time watching TV nowadays, which has led to a greater interest in internet advertising.
Very often we use a participle clause here instead of a relative clause.
  • We have been having rather wet weather recently, resulting in an increase in the sale of umbrellas.
  • David couldn't make it to the meeting, meaning that I had to sit in for him.
  • Young people don't spend so much time watching TV nowadays, leading to a greater interest in internet advertising.
You can read more about this and do an exercise on it at my post on coordinate relative clauses (link below).

Final thoughts

1. Some grammar books and websites categorise sentential relative clauses as something different from non-defining relative clauses (see links below under 'Sentential relative clauses'). Others list connective relative clauses as being different from non-defining clauses (see links below under 'Connective relative clauses'). Nobody I can find lists two separate categories: both sentential and connective. They all choose one or the other.
2. There is a lot of overlap between sentential and connective clauses, the ones we looked at from section 4 onwards having the characteristics of both sentential and connective relative clauses. And sometimes there is even overlap with standard non-defining realtive clauses modifying nouns.
3. As I have discovered trying to think up sentences for these exercises, it's not always easy, therefore, to say with absolute certainty, that a clause is this type or that type.
4. For these reasons I wouldn't worry too much trying to categorise these clauses, but rather to see them as variations on non-defining clauses. The main things to remember are that:
  • non-defining relative clauses can modify (give us information about) a noun phrase or the whole of the preceding clause.
  • non-defining relative clauses can simply add a comment about that noun phrase or clause, or they can take the story further and lead into a completely new idea.
  • When developing the story, which sometimes comes after prepositions, and sometimes it comes after a preposition and acts as a determiner before a noun.
  • We can't use that or omit rhe relative pronoun.

Answers

Related posts

Links

Relative clauses - general

  • Maralboran.org - breakdown of types of relative clauses, including connective relative clauses
  • Xtec - breakdown of types of relative clauses, including connective relative clauses

Sentential relative clauses

Connective relative clauses

  • Viet ESL -quite detailed description of connective relative clauses

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