What Is a Restrictive Clause? (with Examples)

What Is a Restrictive Clause? (with Examples)

A restrictive clause is a clause which functions as an adjective to identify the word it modifies. A restrictive clause is essential for the intended meaning. A restrictive clause is not offset with commas. For example:

  • The boy who broke the window is at the door.
  • (The shaded text is a restrictive clause. It describes The boy. More importantly though, it identifies the boy. It is not just additional information. It is essential for understanding.)
Restrictive clauses contrast with non-restrictive clauses. Look at this example of a non-restrictive clause:

  • Simon Baxter, who is a deep-sea fisherman, is training to be a lion tamer.
  • (The bold text is a non-restrictive clause. It describes Simon Baxter, but it does not identify him. It's just additional information about him. You could have put brackets around this text or even deleted it.)

Examples of Restrictive Clauses

Here are some more examples of restrictive clauses:

  • I went to London with the man who lives next door.
  • (The clause identifies the man.)

  • The window which you cracked is over 300 years old.
  • (The clause identifies the window.)

  • The window that you cracked is over 300 years old.
  • (With a restrictive clause, you can use that to replace which.
    Which, that, and who are called relative pronouns. With a restrictive clause, you can often remove the relative pronoun entirely.)

  • Sonia, the request which you wrote yesterday was rejected.
Read more about using commas with which, that, and who.

Some More Examples of Restrictive Clauses

Here are some more examples of restrictive clauses in real-life quotes (restrictive clauses shaded):

  • How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese? Charles De Gaulle, 1890-1970)

  • Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them. (Paul Valery, 1871-1945)

  • Given a choice between two theories, take the one which is funnier.

  • Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. (Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849)
  • (This quote has three restrictive clauses, including a restrictive clause (in bold) within a restrictive clause.)



See also:

What is a clause?
What is a modifier?
What are non-restrictive clauses?
More about using commas with which, that, and who
More about your choice of parentheses
Glossary of grammatical terms
 
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IF YOU'RE HAPPY TO USE PARENTHESES (BRACKETS), USE COMMAS

There is often confusion over whether to use a comma(s) with a clause that starts with which or who.

If you would happily offset your clause with parentheses (brackets), then use commas. This trick 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 AFFECT THE MEANING

The meaning of your sentence will be affected by your decision whether to use commas around a clause. Both of the examples below are grammatically sound, but they have slightly different meanings.

  • My cousins who live in the country are scared of sheep.
  • (This is a restrictive clause. It specifies that I'm talking about my cousins from the country, i.e., not my other cousins.)
  • My cousins, who live in the country, are scared of sheep.
  • (This suggests that all my cousins are scared of sheep. As additional information, I've also told you that they live in the country. We could delete that clause if we wanted.)
Read more about commas around clauses.