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    #1

    defining or non-defining?

    Hello,

    A teacher told me today that the senteces below were non-defining ones, therefore the relative clauses should be separated by commas. I disagreed with him. I took the first sentence from one of Murphy's grammars, and made the second one myself.

    Jack is wearing a hat that/which is too big for him.
    Yesterday I met a friend that/who I see very seldom.

    Considering the difference between defining and non-defining clauses can be very subtle sometimes and it may reflect the speaker's point of view, I arrived at the conclusion that both are possible, yet I can't say I'm sure. What do you think? I'm beginning to lose my ability to think clearly.

    Thank you!

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    1. Jack is wearing a hat that/which is too big for him.
    2. Yesterday I met a friend that/who I see very seldom.

    Considering the difference between defining and non-defining clauses can be very subtle sometimes and it may reflect the speaker's point of view, I arrived at the conclusion that both are possible, yet I can't say I'm sure. What do you think? I'm beginning to lose my ability to think clearly
    The indefinite article makes it far more likely that the person who wrote/said those words was thinking of the relative in defining terms. The non-defining reading is possible in #1, especially if Jack does not normally wear a hat; in #2 it is very unlikely, in my opinion.

    If we define the noun in some other way, then the relative clause can be either defining or non-defining, depending on the context.

    Jack is wearing the hat that is too big for him. (Not the one that is the right size.)
    Jack is wearing the hat, which is too big for him.
    (Only likely if the people talking know exactly which hat is being referred to).
    Jack is wearing his hat, which is too big for him. (Jack almost certainly possesses only one hat.)
    Jack is wearing his old black hat, which is too big for him.
    Yesterday I met the friend that I very seldom see. (There is only one of his friends that the speaker seldom sees.).
    Yesterday I met my old friend Jack, who I very seldom see.

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    #3

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    Hello,

    A teacher told me today that the senteces below were non-defining ones, therefore the relative clauses should be separated by commas. I disagreed with him. I took the first sentence from one of Murphy's grammars, and made the second one myself.

    Jack is wearing a hat that/which is too big for him.
    Yesterday I met a friend that/who I see very seldom.

    Considering the difference between defining and non-defining clauses can be very subtle sometimes and it may reflect the speaker's point of view, I arrived at the conclusion that both are possible, yet I can't say I'm sure. What do you think? I'm beginning to lose my ability to think clearly.

    Thank you!

    ***** NOT A TEACHER *****


    (1) Many teachers say it no longer matters, but since I know from

    your posts that you wish to know "perfect" English, may I most

    respectfully remind you that No. 2 should be (according to the

    few strict teachers who are still around):

    Yesterday I met a friend that/whom I seldom see. (restrictive)

    Yesterday I met a friend, whom I seldom see. (non-restrictive)

    (2) As you probably know, many people have given up on the

    who/whom differerence. Probably younger people could not

    care less. But for some people, using "who" in your sentences

    is still jarring.

    (a) I have a suspicion that the same people who say that it

    doesn't matter which pronoun you use are the same people who

    would carefully use "whom" in their own writings, lest their

    colleagues think less highly of them.

    P.S. Of course, this is only the opinion of a non-teacher.

    And you must accept the answer from any teacher as the

    correct answer. Personally, I hope that you will help to preserve

    the who/whom difference.

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    #4

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    TheParser, thank you for the reply!

    Quote Originally Posted by TheParser View Post
    P.S. Of course, this is only the opinion of a non-teacher.

    And you must accept the answer from any teacher as the

    correct answer.
    Must I?

  2. freezeframe's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    Jack is wearing a hat that/which is too big for him.
    Yesterday I met a friend that/who I see very seldom.
    whom

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    #6

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    The indefinite article makes it far more likely that the person who wrote/said those words was thinking of the relative in defining terms. The non-defining reading is possible in #1, especially if Jack does not normally wear a hat; in #2 it is very unlikely, in my opinion.

    If we define the noun in some other way, then the relative clause can be either defining or non-defining, depending on the context.
    Thank you! So my first impulse was right then. The teacher who I wrote about (defining? I've had no problems with those right until this evening) isn't a NES, but is considered to have vast experience.
    I don't feel I should accept an answer from any teacher as the only possible one. That won't allow me to think myself.

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    #7

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    TheParser: [...] may I most respectfully remind you that No. 2 should be (according to the few strict teachers who are still around):

    Yesterday I met a friend that/whom I seldom see. (restrictive)
    Yesterday I met a friend, whom I seldom see. (non-restrictive)

    5jj: My opinion is that these strict teachers are clinging on pointlessly to a 'rule' that was abandoned in speech in British English by all but a tiny minority many years ago (especially in restrictive/defining relative clauses). As A S Kaye (English Today, 1991) wrote of the question "to whom do you wish to speak?": "Indeed a conversation might be killed right there".
    While whom is still preferred by some people in formal writing, more and more are using who.


    This started a long time ago. In the works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible you will find who in places where the pedants would prefer whom.


    TheParser:[...]for some people, using "who" in your sentences is still jarring.
    5jj: That may be a misfortune for those people, but need not worry the rest of us. Such people tend to find split infinitives and prepositions at the end of sentences jarring. I am surprised only that they do not find the loss of the thou/you distinction jarring. The language changes.

    TheParser: I have a suspicion that the same people who say that it doesn't matter which pronoun you use are the same people who would carefully use "whom" in their own writings, lest their colleagues think less highly of them.
    5jj: Hmm. Should I be offended by that?

    As a teacher of English to speakers of other languages, I drew the attention of learners to whom; there are, after all, very many examples of it in writing. However, I actively discouraged its use in informal conversation. One thing that all too often sets learners apart from native speakers is their use of language that was considered 'perfect' by their teachers, but is considered strange, outdated, 'posh' and/or pretentious by most native speakers. Our job is not to teach English as we would like it to be, but as is it actually used by native speakers.

    Note: I am speaking of British English. I believe that whom is more widely used in American English, though I have not particularly noticed this in the speech of my American colleagues.

  4. 5jj's Avatar
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    #8

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    Quote Originally Posted by Verona_82 View Post
    I don't feel I should accept an answer from any teacher as the only possible one. That won't allow me to think myself.
    I agree wholeheartedly. We teachers are only human. There are some very bad teachers around, and even the best are as capable of making mistakes as anybody else.

  5. nyota's Avatar
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    #9

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    I respect Parser's opinion and I think he did a great job writing his post, yet I can't help but smile when I read:

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    As A S Kaye (English Today, 1991) wrote of the question "to whom do you wish to speak?": "Indeed a conversation might be killed right there".
    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    TheParser:[...]for some people, using "who" in your sentences is still jarring.
    5jj: [...] Such people tend to find split infinitives and prepositions at the end of sentences jarring. I am surprised only that they do not find the loss of the thou/you distinction jarring. The language changes.

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    #10

    Re: defining or non-defining?

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    TheParser:[...]for some people, using "who" in your sentences is still jarring.
    5jj: That may be a misfortune for those people, but need not worry the rest of us. Such people tend to find split infinitives and prepositions at the end of sentences jarring. I am surprised only that they do not find the loss of the thou/you distinction jarring. The language changes.
    The language changes and a certain number (which can be estimated) of people find using "who" instead of "whom" jarring. These are just two facts. Let's please allow each other to worry about whatever they (is it the right pronoun?) wish.

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