Punctuation in relative clauses (again!)

One excellent way of improving your English is to follow the news in English so I am going to be more active in mentioning news stories to you. These will usually be British news stories so I hope that those of you who want to improve your general knowledge about Britain and British culture will find this useful. In the news today is the story that Gurkhas have won the right to settle in the UK. Gurkhas are soldiers who come from Nepal but who fight in the British army. They want the right to settle in the UK after they retire – as people say: if they have fought and risked their lives for us then they should be allowed to live here! There is a much loved British actress called Joanna Lumley who has been supporting the Gurkhas (her father served in the army with them). Joanna Lovely – sorry I mean Lumley – is articulate, (talks well), refined (well-educated), famous and very forceful and has helped the Gurkhas in their campaign.

Now look at some of the sentences from a news story about the Gurkhas:

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 1997 defines 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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