Coffee, which contains caffeine, is vs. Coffee which contains caffeine is

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sumomo

Member
Japanese
Coffee, which contains caffeine, is too bitter for me to drink.

This means that as coffee contains caffeine, it is too bitter for me to drink or that Coffee contains caffeine and it is too bitter for me to drink or another?
 
  • Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    With the commas, the "which contains caffeine" is parenthetical and has no bearing on the meaning of the main sentence. It is merely an interesting fact that you are throwing in. This is similar in meaning to your second sentence (with "and"). If you leave the commas out, the phrase is identifying and tells us which coffee is too bitter for you to drink. This, however, does not have the meaning of your first sentence as it seems to imply that decaffeinated coffee (coffee which doesn't contain caffeine) is not too bitter.
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    Yes, there's a clear difference between:

    (1) Coffee, which contains caffeine, is too bitter for me to drink. [Coffee is too bitter for me to drink. And it contains caffeine.]
    (2) Coffee which contains caffeine is too bitter for me to drink. [But I can drink coffee which doesn't contain it.]

    The first is marked by a fall-rise intonation before and after the relative clause, which has a slight pause around it. The second sentence has continuous intonation all the way through:

    (1) \/Coffee, which contains \/caffeine, is too bitter for me to drink.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Consider "Coffee, which is brown, is too bitter for me to drink."
    Or, "Coffee, which is expensive, is too bitter for me to drink."

    These have the same structure as your sample sentence. Since everyone knows that the color and cost of coffee can't affect its bitterness, we're not confused. We don't know the same thig about caffeine - maybe caffeine is what makes coffee bitter? - so we don't draw the same conclusion right away, but in this sentence the caffeine isn't related to bitterness either. Your second interpretation is correct.
     

    sumomo

    Member
    Japanese
    Thank you Egmont!
    another question.
    If I write Coffee is too bitter for me to drink, which contains caffeine Is it the same as Coffee is too bitter for me to drink because it contains caffeine?
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    No, you can't say that. A 'which' clause doesn't have to be right next to the noun it qualifies, but it is usually there next to it. You have put it too far away, right at the end after other parts of the sentence.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If I write Coffee is too bitter for me to drink, which contains caffeine Is it the same as Coffee is too bitter for me to drink because it contains caffeine?
    First, it's not natural English to put an adjectivial phrase so far from the noun it modifies. It seems like it may be "to drink" which contains caffeine even though that's nonsense. Secondly, the "which" clause (as noted above) either states a fact about coffee or says what kind of coffee. The "because" clause tells use why "coffee is too bitter for me to drink". There is no real sense of "why" in the "which" clause" and the "which" clause only modifies "coffee" while the "because" clause is about the entire thing.
    Outside the grammar, the meaning of some versions this sentence makes it hard for me to judge impartially as I, personally, cannot tell coffee with caffeine from coffee without caffeine by the level of bitterness (they both seem bitter to me), yet some of these sentences say it makes an extreme difference.
     

    sumomo

    Member
    Japanese
    sorry I'm getting confused.

    Aside from whether caffeine actually affects the bitterness of coffee, you are saying "Coffee, which contains caffeine, is too bitter for me to drink" cannot mean "Because coffee contains caffeine, it is too bitter for me to drink" because ",which" has no meaning of "because". aren't you?

    My dictionary says that ", which" is usually replaced by "and" but ,in some contexts, can be replaced by "but", " because", "though" and the like.
    So I was wondering in which way (and or because) native speakers interpret this sentence if they don't know whether caffeine affects bitterness.
     

    cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    My dictionary says that ", which" is usually replaced by "and" but ,in some contexts, can be replaced by "but", " because", "though" and the like.
    So I was wondering in which way (and or because) native speakers interpret this sentence if they don't know whether caffeine affects bitterness.
    This looks entirely bogus to me. "Which" is a relative pronoun or adjective. "And," "but", " because", "though" are conjunctions. Does your dictionary give any examples of these substitutions?

    Have a look at this page on restrictive vs. nonrestrictive clauses.

    Also, please desist from placing a space before your commas. :)
     

    sumomo

    Member
    Japanese
    For examples, It says
    "He gave me some chocolates, which I ate at once." is the same as "He gave me some chocolates and I ate them at once."
    "She lent me some books, which were not interesting." is the same as " She lent me some books but they were not interesting."
    "I telephoned Rod, who had called me while I was out." is the same as "I telephoned Rod because hehad called me while I was out."
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Hey there -

    Notice that the entire grammatical structure of the sentence changes when you make these substitutions (which to but, who to because, etc.). This might be a way to get at the "sense" of the sentence (although it's not obvious to me that such a sense is implied), but it is not done through one-to-one substitution.

    Example: which I ate at once
    becomes: and I ate them at once

    Is your book, perhaps, trying to demonstrate the difference (not the equivalence, as you seem to have interpreted it) between conjunctions and relative pronouns?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    For examples, It says
    "He gave me some chocolates, which I ate at once." is the same as "He gave me some chocolates and I ate them at once."
    This involves replacing and rewriting the subordinate clause. Arguably, you replaced "which" with "them" rather than "and".
    You can also say "He gave me some chocolates. I ate them at once." That doesn't mean that you can always replace "which" with a full stop/period.
    "She lent me some books, which were not interesting." is the same as " She lent me some books but they were not interesting."
    Again, "which" is replaced with "they" and the meaning is slightly different.
    "I telephoned Rod, who had called me while I was out." is the same as "I telephoned Rod because hehad called me while I was out."
    Again, the "because" sense is not present in the first sentence. It is a fact that he called while I was out, but I am calling him because of some other reason.
     
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