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  1. #1
    Grablevskij's Avatar
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    Default Defining/non-defining clauses

    She's an actress whom most people think is at the peak of her career.
    A friend of mine who is a solicitor helped me.

    This examples are from Afvanced Grammar in Use by Martin Hewings (Cambridge University Press). The author gives them as examples of defining clauses. Are they really defining?

    The second one is especially strange case for me. Can I not omit the relative clause without distorting the sense? I think I can. A friend of mine helped me. I would not decide it is a defining clause.

    What will happen if I put a comma before the relative clause in these two sentences? Will it distort the meaning seriously?

    By the way, can whom be a subject? I would never tell like that. Whom most people think to be... Or who most people think is...

    Michael

  2. #2
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Default Re: Defining/non-defining clauses

    Quote Originally Posted by Grablevskij View Post
    She's an actress whom most people think is at the peak of her career.
    A friend of mine who is a solicitor helped me.

    This examples are from Afvanced Grammar in Use by Martin Hewings (Cambridge University Press). The author gives them as examples of defining clauses. Are they really defining?

    The second one is especially strange case for me. Can I not omit the relative clause without distorting the sense? I think I can. A friend of mine helped me. I would not decide it is a defining clause.

    What will happen if I put a comma before the relative clause in these two sentences? Will it distort the meaning seriously?

    By the way, can whom be a subject? I would never tell like that. Whom most people think to be... Or who most people think is...

    Michael
    Hi Michael,

    The terms 'defining' and 'non-defining' are more than a little misleading. They aren't really meant to help ESL students understand. They were designed to confuse English native speaking students and their teachers. The teachers don't really know what they mean but they teach it anyway; the ironic part is that all native speakers already know how to use them.

    Now to address your concerns. In the sense grammarians use them, both these examples are defining clauses. You have to view this in context. Imagine that I'm describing this actress. Within the context of my speech, I'm defining which actress I'm talking about. Same with the friend; it's not just any one of my millions of friends, it's the one/one of the ones who is a lawyer.

    A better description or one that is maybe easier to grasp/understand is a limiting clause. My comments on the actress/friend are limited to the one's I'm describing. The info I've so far provided to you, that "most people think she is at the peak of her career" and that "he/she is a solicitor" certainly do not define clearly to you just who I mean but the test of a defining/limiting clause is not viewed from the perspective of the listener, rather it is viewed from the view of the speaker.

    Putting commas in, in these two cases, will not change the meaning one iota. Some might argue that a defining/limiting clause such as, "who is a solicitor" means that I only have one friend who is a solicitor but that is a real stretch. In some cases, adding commas could change the meaning/nuance.

  3. #3
    Grablevskij's Avatar
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    Default Re: Defining/non-defining clauses

    Thank you, dear Riverkid.

    The most curious thing is that when I am told that some clause is a difining one I can explain why. But I myself would never think these two sentences to be defining and certainly would mark them with commas.

    Maybe it is a matter of stile. Anyway I have just started to study commas. And there is little materials, not enough exercises. If anyone knows some link to exercises on the subject, I would appreciate. But only if they have keys. Without keys I am blind as a mole.

    Michael

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    RonBee's Avatar
    RonBee is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Defining/non-defining clauses

    Quote Originally Posted by Grablevskij View Post
    Thank you, dear Riverkid.

    The most curious thing is that when I am told that some clause is a defining one I can explain why. But I myself would never think these two sentences to be defining and certainly would mark them with commas.

    Maybe it is a matter of style. Anyway I have just started to study commas. And there is very little material and not enough exercises. If anyone has a link to exercises on the subject, I would appreciate it if they would post it. But only if they have keys. Without keys I am as blind as a mole.

    Michael

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    RonBee's Avatar
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    Default Re: Defining/non-defining clauses

    Quote Originally Posted by Grablevskij View Post
    She's an actress whom most people think is at the peak of her career.
    A friend of mine who is a solicitor helped me.
    I wouldn't use "whom" in the first sentence. Instead, I would say:
    She's an actress who most people think is at the peak of her career.
    Neither sentence needs any additional punctuation.

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