Commas in relative clauses

This page gives examples of using commas and not using them in different types of relative clauses

Here are some sentences from a news story about Gurkhas in the UK army using relative clauses. (Gurkhas are soldiers from Nepal who serve in the British army.)

1. Some 36,000 Gurkhas who left before 1997 had been denied UK residency.
2. Ms Lumley, the actress who has been the public face of the campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas, said: “This is the welcome we have always longed to give.”
3. She called Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who she had met earlier, a “brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave”.

You should notice that sentence 1 does NOT have commas around the relative clause:

Some 36,000 Gurkhas who left before 1997 had been denied UK residency

But sentences 2 and 3 DO have commas around the relative clauses:

Ms Lumley, the actress who has been the public face of the campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas, said: “This is the welcome we have always longed to give.”
She called Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who she had met earlier, a “brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave”.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
The information in the relative clause in sentence 1 is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Not all Gurkhas had been denied residency, only the 36000 who left the army before 1997 had been denied residency. The phrase who left before 1997defines which Gurkhas we are talking about. Therefore this is called a defining relative clause and does not use commas.

In contrast, in sentence 2 the phrase the actress who has been the public face of the campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas simply gives us extra information about the subject of the sentence. If you take out that phrase you get this:

Ms Lumley, the actress who has been the public face of the campaign on behalf of the Gurkhas, said: “This is the welcome we have always longed to give.”

and I hope you can see that the sentence still makes perfect sense. None of the essential information to understand the sentence is missing. This is called a non-defining relative clause and does use commas.

Similarly in sentence 3 the relative clause could be deleted:
She called Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who she had met earlier, a “brave man who has made today a brave decision on behalf of the bravest of the brave”.

because it is not essential information. This is another example of a non-defining relative clause with commas.

Read more about the story here!

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