Restrictive/Non-restrictive banter continue

Subject: Restrictive/Non-restrictive banter continue
From: "Dave L. Meek's User Account" <dave -at- SYNERGEX -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996 09:45:46 -0800

Karen_Mayer -dot- TOUCH_TECHNOLOGY -at- notes -dot- compuserve -dot- com wrote:
I'm looking at the Prentice Hall Reference Guide to Grammar and Usage
(pages 55-56), which states in its section on essential and non-essential
phrases (also called restrictive and non-restrictive) that

" Nonessential clauses and phrases are set off by a pair of commas when
they appear within a sentence. Only one comma is needed when they appear
at the end of a sentence."

This particular grammar book specifically states: "Essential clauses and
phrases are not set off by commas" and "Clauses starting with *that* are
almost always essential."

Granted, this section of this grammar book does not address the word
"which" specifically, but I also saw this explanation *using the word
"which"* in another grammar book I used while I was teaching English
overseas. (I was asked this question by my students quite frequently!)

If I understand the issue correctly, the question is whether
"that" or "which" is appropriate for restrictive and
nonrestrictive clauses. Certainly, punctuation is the key
indicator of whether a clause is essential or nonessential. But
that's an entirely separate point in respect to the issue under

Suppose I wrote "The lawnmover, aardvark in the garage, is
broken." While the clause "aardvark in the garage" is
nonessential (in more ways than one :) ), the use of "aardvark"
remains entirely inappropriate (and a bit silly). Concentrating
on the punction leaves unaddressed the focus of the original
issue of *word choice.*

The question remains, "Are 'that' and 'which' appropriate only
for restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses respectively?"

George O. Curme, *English Grammar*, 1947, writes: "'Who,'
'that,' and 'which' have long been used with either restrictive
or descriptive clauses, but in our time there is a strong
tendency to limit 'that' to restrictive clauses."

Roy H. Copperud, *American Usage and Style: The Consensus*,
1980, utilizes a number of authorities, including Evans, Flesch,
Follett, Fowler, Webster, AHD, Random, and others. He writes:
"All the authorities surveyed deal with this question, and except
for Evans they agree that 'that' is preferable to begin a
restrictive clause ... and that 'which' is preferable to begin a
nonrestrictive clause .... It is generally conceded, however,
that 'which' is often used to introduce restrictive clauses ...
and that this cannot be considered an error. ... 'That'
introducing a nonrestrictive clause is a blunder. ... The chief
use of the distinction given here between 'that' and 'which' is
that it helps in distinguishing between restrictive and
nonrestrictive clauses, a far more important matter than any
arbitrary preference of pronoun." (Page 376)

It would seem, than, that while "which" can be used to introduce
a restrictive clause, it is not the preferred pronoun to use. In
light of this information, and the very real chance that many of
readers might not be familiar with these fine distinctions and
would thus erroneously judge the use of "which" to introduce a
restrictive clause as indicative of a poorly educated writer, I
would stick to the preferred usages of "that" and "which."

| "Watch that first steppe! It's a doozie!" Napoleon Bonaparte |
| Russian Campaign, 1814 |
Dave Meek

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