What Is a Non-restrictive Clause? (with Examples)

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What Is a Non-restrictive Clause? (with Examples)

A non-restrictive clause is a clause which is not needed to identify the word it modifies, i.e., it is just additional information. As a non-restrictive clause is not essential to the meaning of a sentence, it is offset with commas. For example:
  • Peter Jones , who plays goalkeeper for our village football team, has worked at his father's greengrocers for twenty years.
  • (The shaded text is a non-restrictive clause. It describes Peter Jones , but it does not identify him. It is merely additional information about him. Deleting this clause would not affect the meaning.)
Non-restrictive clauses contrast with restrictive clauses. Look at this example of a restrictive clause:
  • The man who plays goalkeeper for our village football team has worked at his father's greengrocers for twenty years.
  • (The bold text is a restrictive clause. It describes the man, and it identifies him. It is not just additional information. It is essential for understanding.)


You are not limited to commas when offsetting a non-restrictive clause. You can parentheses (brackets) or dashes too.

Read more about your choices of punctuation for offsetting a non-restrictive clause.

Examples of Non-restrictive Clauses

Here are some more examples of non-restrictive clauses:
  • I went to London with John Baker, who lives next door.
  • (This is just additional information. It's a non-restrictive clause.)
  • Betty, who is still on the ferry, will arrive before 4 o'clock.
  • (This is just additional information. It's a non-restrictive clause.)
Read more about using commas with which, that, and who.

Some More Examples of Non-restrictive Clauses

Here are some more examples of non-restrictive clauses in real-life quotes (non-restrictive clauses shaded):
  • Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it. (Russel Lynes)
  • Humans are the only animals that have children on purpose with the exception of guppies, who like to eat theirs. (P J O'Rourke)
  • She had a pretty gift for quotation, which is a serviceable substitute for wit.
  • You can talk about anything if you go about it the right way, which is never malicious. (Rodney Carrington)
 
 
IF PARENTHESES (BRACKETS) SEEM OKAY, THEN USE COMMAS

Writers are sometimes unsure whether to use a comma(s) with a clause starting with which or who.

If you are happy to offset your clause with parentheses (brackets), then use commas. This tip works because non-restrictive clauses (the ones with commas) just provide additional information. They're not essential.

Read more about your choice of parentheses.
COMMAS WILL AFFECT THE MEANING

The meaning of your sentence will be affected by your decision whether to use commas around a clause. Both examples below are grammatically sound, but they have different meanings.
  • My sister, who is married, won the lottery.
  • (This suggests I have just one sister. I've also told you that she is married, but I could have omitted that information.)
  • My sister who is married won the lottery.
  • (This is a restrictive clause. It specifies that I'm talking about my married sister, i.e., not my other unmarried sister or sisters.)
Read more about commas around clauses.


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