Restrictive vs. Nonrestrictive Relatives
Let us now have a closer look at nonrestrictive relative clauses. The following two sentences differ in the way that one of them has intonation breaks (indicated by the commas), whereas the other one has no pauses:
1. Isabelle Allende, who is a writer, went into exile in 1975.
2. A woman who is a writer went into exile in 1975.
The first sentence is a nonrestrictive relative clause, the second sentence is a restrictive relative clause. Relative clauses can differ from each other. The main differences between the two kinds of relative clauses are summarized in the following:
Restrictive relative clauses:
- provide information which is important for the identification of the referent of a head noun
- restrict the set of referents for the modified NP
- narrow down the set of entities denoted by a head NP to a smaller set
- cannot modify singular proper nouns, exception: when the proper noun is used as a common noun
- cannot modify senteces, VPs, PPs, or APs
- allow the relative pronouns who, whom, which and that
Nonrestrictive relative clauses:
- provide information, which is not important for the identification of the referent of the head noun
- modify NPs with a unique referent
- provide more information about an entity or set of entities, without narrowing down from a larger set to a smaller (-> narrowing down is not possible)
- can modify singular proper nouns
- can modify senteces, VPs, PPs, or APs
- allow the relative pronouns who, whom, which but not that
In order to understand these aspects, let us observe some of the differences:
A. We have already read that restrictive relative clauses cannot modify singular proper nouns. Therefore, 1. is ungrammatical:
1. * Pablo Picasso who was an artist is very famous today.
2. The man who was an artist is very famous today.
3. Pablo Picasso, who was an artist, is very famous today.
Restrictive and nonrestrictive relative clauses have different functions. Nonrestrictive relative clauses cannot narrow down a set of entities to a smaller set, only restrictive relative clauses do so. In the restrictive relative clause Pablo Picasso is a specified person. In contrast, the man denotes the set of all men. The set must have more than one member to be narrowed down. A singular proper noun has only one referent. Therefore, restrictive relative clauses cannot be attached to singular poper nouns. Exception: A restrictive relative clause can modify a proper noun which is used as a common noun. (e.g. The Isabel Allende who is a writer, not the one that is a politician.)
B. Another difference between the two kinds of relative clauses is that only nonrestrictive relative clauses can be attached to sentences, VPs, PPs and APs. This is shown in the following examples:
- Modifying a sentence
Restrictive: * Tomorrow is Mary’s birthday which means she will eat a lot of cake.
Nonrestictive: Tomorrow is Mary’s birthday, which means she will eat a lot of cake.
- Modifying a VP
Restrictive: * Susan talks a lot about unemployment which many politicians do.
Nonrestictive: Susan talks a lot about unemployment, which many politicians do.
- Modyfying a PP
Restrictive: * The meal is in the dining room where it will be eaten.
Nonrestictive: The meal is in the dining room, where it will be eaten.
- Modifying an AP
Restrictive : * I am tired which indicates my lack of sleep.
Nonrestictive: I am tired, which indicates my lack of sleep.
C. Moreover, in contrast to restrictive relative clauses, nonrestrictive relative clauses allow the relative pronouns who, whom and which but not that. Why is that the case?
1. The man that is a magician...
2. David Copperfield, who is a magician,...
3. * David Copperfield, that is a magician,...
The third sentence is ungrammatical, because non-restrictive relative clauses do not allow that. The context in which that is used can give us a hint why:
That can mark...
- a sentential subject:
- a sentencial object:
- the beginning of an extraposed sentential subject:
- an embedded sentence in a noun complement structure:
That cannot occur in...
- untensed embedded sentences (in sentences with for and s’)
- at the beginning of subordinate conjunctions like when, since, although
- in coordinate conjunctions where the only conjoined elements are sentences.
This last aspect, can possibly explain why that cannot occur with nonrestrictive relative clauses: A nonrestrictive relative clause can be paraphrased with a sentence conjunction, a restrictive relative clause can’t be:
1. Tim, who is a manufacturer, is not able to fix the car.
= Tim is a manufacturer and he is not able to fix the car.
2. The scientist who developed the theory of relativity was Albert Einstein.
= * The scientist developed the theory of relativity was Albert Einstein.
Nonrestrictive relative clauses are related to conjoined sentences. They can be seen as transformed versions of coordinate conjoined structures. The reason for why the complementizer that cannot be used in nonrestrictive relative clauses is that it does not occur in coordinate conjoined structures. This is not the case in restrictive relative clauses.
D. Relative Clauses and Appositives
In the end let us contrast relative clauses to appositives: An appositive is a construction that immediately follows an NP and refers to it. Here are two examples:
1. Matthew and Peter, my uncles, behaved very badly on our last family meeting.
2. Indiana Jones, a famous adventure film series, was directed by George Lucas und Steven Spielberg in the 1980s.
These sentences are identical in meaning to the following relative clauses:
3. Matthew and Peter, who are my uncles, behaved very badly on our last family meeting.
4. Indiana Jones, which is a famous adventure film series, was directed by George Lucas und Steven Spielberg in the 1980s.
An appositive is shorter than a relative clauses. It seems to be a derived relative clause because the wh-word and the verb be are deleted. Most appositives are derived from nonrestrictive relative clauses but there are also restrictive appositives:
Example: She was talking about Madonna the singer.
The NP Madonna has more than one referent. Therefore, the interpretation (for the appositive NPs which follow) can be restictive. An NP which is necessarily unique, like my father, can be modified only by a nonrestrictive appositive:
1. * My father, the lecturer, is holding a speech soon.
2. My father, the lecturer, is holding a speech soon.