How to Identify and Distinguish Clauses
by Owen Fourie
~ Part Two ~
In Part One of this article, we looked at various clauses: independent, main, verb, and coordinate clauses; dependent or subordinate clauses; relative and sentential clauses.
Here are more clauses that we need to know.
The restrictive or essential or defining clause
Justin wrote a short story for his friend who was ill in hospital.
For which friend did Justin write a short story? He wrote it for his friend who was ill in hospital. This relative clause is essential. It defines which friend. It is restrictive and specific: it was for this friend and no other.
Where the information provided by the relative clause is essential, no punctuation must be used to separate it from its referent.
If a restrictive clause occurs in the middle of a sentence, no punctuation must be used:
After reading the short story, Justin’s friend who was ill in hospital asked him to write another.
The nonrestrictive or nonessential or non-defining clause
Justin wrote a short story for Ryan, who was ill in hospital.
For whom did Justin write a short story? He wrote it for Ryan, so the recipient is identified immediately, and no further information is necessary to identify or define him. Whatever is added here—that he was ill in hospital—is not essential.
Where the information provided by the relative clause is nonessential, punctuation must be used to separate it from its referent. It shows that if it is lopped off at the comma, it will not change the fact that the short story was written for Ryan.
If a nonrestrictive clause occurs in the middle of a sentence, two commas must be used—one before and one after the clause:
After reading the short story, Ryan, who was ill in hospital, asked Justin to write another.
The elliptical clause
Elliptical clauses omit words that are obvious to the reader from the context. It is clear what the missing words are, and they have not been left out in error.
Independent clauses and subordinate clauses may be written elliptically.
Emma had dropped six stitches; Heather, two.
The verb had dropped was omitted in the second independent clause, but the meaning is obvious. The second clause is an elliptical clause.
The following example has an elliptical subordinate clause. The missing words are italicized in the repetition below.
Although sometimes nervous about knitting, Emma produced work that won prizes.
Although she was sometimes nervous about knitting, Emma produced work that won prizes.
The noun clause
Noun clauses are subordinate clauses. They are introduced by subordinating conjunctions (if, that, whether, whoever, wherever, whenever, etc.)
Noun clauses function as
- subject complements;
- direct objects;
- object complements;
- indirect objects;
- prepositional complements;
- adjectival phrase complements.
Here are examples showing each of these functions:
- What Justin did with his writing pleased his teacher. (noun clause as subject);
- Emma’s problem was that she doubted her abilities. (as subject complement or predicate nominative);
- Ryan did not know that Justin was a good writer. (as direct object);
- Justin considers his greatest challenge that a blank page terrifies him. (as object complement);
- Have you given how you want to propose to Heather any thought? (as indirect object);
- The problem, that you don’t know how to propose to Heather, is affecting you. (as appositive);
- Emma is thinking about what the judges said of her work. (as prepositional complement or object of a preposition);
- Heather is sad that Ryan does not know how to propose to her. (as adjectival phrase complement)
In part three, we’ll look at adjectival clauses and adverbial clauses.
Will Ryan finally pop the question?
Are there any clauses mentioned here that you find difficult to identify? If so, which are they and what confuses you? What are your particular struggles with English Grammar? If you need help with any grammar problem, ask here. Do you have any useful insights? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.
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