Relative Sentences

by Gower

<< All Articles | Print

Relative Clause Sentences


Good day, and welcome to the next in my ongoing series of sentence construction articles.  In this article, we're going to learn a new sentence structure by using relative clauses.  Building this kind of sentence is not that difficult in principle--you probably write these all the time.  However, choosing what kind of relative clause sentence to use in any given situation gives people fits.

After reading this article, you will always know how to choose correctly, and I give you my Gower guarantee.


Let's take two pretty simple sentences and then connect them using a relative clause.


* Steve is an author.  He wrote fifteen storygames.


* Steve is an author who wrote fifteen storygames.


So "wrote fifteen storygames" functions almost like an adjective.  It describes the word "author"--it tells you what kind of author Steve is.


If we wanted to, we could phrase that differently by setting the relative clause off with commas.


* Steve, who wrote fifteen storygames, is an author.


Relative Words


There are a handful of words that are used to link clauses together to make Relative Clause sentences.   This lecture will be talking pretty much dealing with these.  If “whom” gives you trouble, stay tuned for a lecture to come on it, if you care.  Or you can just not care:












Restrictive and Non-restrictive


This is the only hard part of this article.  If you get this part, the rest will be simple.  So pay attention.  Hey!  Pay attention.  Drink some black coffee and read this.


Imagine we have this sentence:


*The noob who joined today is pretty good entertainment.

Look at that clause "who joined today."  Imagine if it weren't there.  The sentence would say

"The noob is pretty good entertainment"--and notice that that is not enough information.  There are a lot of noobs, and we need to know which one you think is good entertainment!

So that clause, "who joined today" is called a RESTRICTIVE clause.  In other words, if *need* the clause for the sentence to make sense, it's called RESTRICTIVE.


Here are some more examples of RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES in brackets.


The Discord people [who haven't participated in a month] will be kicked.

The storygame [that is all about trying to pee] has been unpublished.

I left the thread [when the adbot showed up].

New members [whose profile picture has an anime image] can expected to be teased.


Now, let's consider the opposite of that.  What does a NON-RESTRICTIVE clause look like?  Those are clauses that can be removed from the sentence while still maintaining the central meaning of that sentence.


** Urnam, who has been a member since 2009, hasn't posted in a year.


So here, "who has been a member since 2009" is not necessary for the point of the sentence.  It is additional, interesting information, but the point of the sentence is that Urnam hasn't posted in a year.


More examples:


I will put the NON-RESTRICTIVE clause in brackets below:


The story, [which was not proofread at all], was unpublished.

By next month, [when the contest entries are all all in], I should have time to read more stories.

The most recent review of my game was written by Mizal, [whose love of the horror genre is unparalled].



You may have noticed a punctuation detail that I've slipped in there. 


NON-RESTRICTIVE CLASES are set off with commas.


Repeat that three times before you go to bed.


**The budding author who was fourteen years old threw a hissy fit.

**The budding author, who was fourteen years old, threw a hissy fit.


These are both correct, but they *mean different things.*

The first one is RESTRICTIVE--in other words, you are telling the reader that there are more than one "budding authors" here and you are specifying, "no, I'm talking about the fourteen year old one, not all the other ones." 

The second one is NON-RESTRICTIVE.  There's only one budding author under discussion, and you just mentioned the age as an additional detail.


**I handed my paper to the professor who was in the bathroom.

**I handed my paper to the professor, who was in the bathroom.


The first one is saying "I gave the paper to *this* professor, not *that* professor.  It is using a RESTRICTIVE clause to tell the reader "you need this information."

The second one is saying "Oh, by the way, he was in the bathroom, lol."



You know know everything you need to know to understand a sophisticated writing thing:  when to use "that" and when to use "which."


**The novels that are on my shelf need to go back to the library.

**The novels, which are on my shelf, need to go back to the library.


The word THAT is used for RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES.



In the first example, you are giving *essential* information.  Just return the novels on my shelf (but not the ones on my desk, for example!!!)

In the second example, there's no other novels.  You are saying the novels have to go back to the library, and by the way, they are on the shelf.


She clicked the link that led to the best storygame she ever read.  (i.e., *that link* and not any other of the twenty links.)

She clicked the link, which led to the best storygame she ever read.  (i.e., there's just the one link, and she clicked it.)


Remember:  THAT needs no comma; WHICH takes a comma in these sorts of sentences.

**After careful consideration, they decided that the older threads which were about Warrior Cats needed to be deleted.


That’s a problem sentence.  We have the word “which” but no comma.  It’s highly ambiguous, and I hope you see why.  Is the sentence saying that ALL of the “older threads” were “about Warrior Cats”?


The sentence should either be

**After careful consideration, they decided that the older threads that were about Warrior Cats needed to be deleted.

**After careful consideration, they decided that the older threads, which were about Warrior Cats, needed to be deleted.


The first one means there were a lot of older threads, but ONLY the threads about Warrior Cats needed to be deleted.

The second one means that ALL of the “older threads” were about Warrior Cats, and they all needed to be deleted.


Damn Foreigners


Unfortunately, in UK English, for some reason that I cannot fathom, they use “which” sometimes where we would expect a “that.”  UK English as a rule is much less strict about this convention, while US English is much more strict about it.  Therefore, if you are North American and you mess this up, I highly advise that you claim you live elsewhere as your excuse or had a British nanny or something.