Is nonrestrictive clause not used in spoken English?

caireo

Senior Member
Tibetan
Hi,

I was told in spoken English, you don't use nonrestrictive clause but restrictive one. For example:

"She gave me some flowers, which were very beautiful."

In spoken English, if we don't split this sentence into two simple sentences (She gave me some flowers. They were very beautiful.) we should at least use restrictive clause:

"She gave me some flowers that were very beautiful."

Is this true? Thanks a lot.
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'm not as sure as Forero and GWB. I would think non-restrictive relative clauses are very unusual in everyday speech*, though you'll certainly find them in more formal scripted speech - lectures and so on.


    * except perhaps where the antecedent is a whole clause: he came in, which I thought was really strange.
     
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    Harry Batt

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The rules are: Use that to introduce restrictive clauses and use which to introduce nonrestrictive clauses. However, some writers also use which to introduce restrictive clauses beginning with in which. No rule exists which limits spoken English from using nonrestrictive clauses.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm having a bit of trouble with Cairo's first sentence:

    She gave me some flowers, which were very beautiful.

    I don't see how this can mean She gave me some flowers and flowers were very beautiful, rather than She gave me some flowers, and the flowers she gave me were very beautiful.

    In other words, I don't see how that combination of words can easily be non-restrictive; i.e. the punctuation is wrong.

    I could understand but would be unlikely to say (because platitudinous): "She gave me some flowers, which are very beautiful." and even then it would be hard to say without making it sound restrictive.

    Taking another, less clear-cut, case:

    1. The men, who are digging up the road, are singing.

    2. The men who are digging up the road are singing.

    I'd have great difficulty finding a way of saying 1. which didn't sound either unnatural or like 2.

    I grant Loob's instance, where the relative pronoun refers to the whole clause.

    There are also cases where it would be natural like: There was thirty people in the street, many of whom had Arsenal scarves.

    Also we might use it when pausing to add information which we'd forgotten might be necessary: The family, - pause - who came to live here in 1955, were very well liked in the village.

    Certainly we do use non-restrictive relatives in speech, but they can easily sound formal, and a bit as though one was reading from a written document.
     
    From what's been said here, and a little thought, I think that may be a fair observation. It is not a rule, simply an observation.

    I disagree, Panj; I think you hear the use of "which" clauses all the time in spoken English:

    Amber: So, like, what did, like, Carrie wear to the party?
    Tiffany:Well her dress wasn't anything special, but her shoes -- which I would have killed for -- were these amazing Jimmy Choos. She always has the best shoes, which is soooooo annoying, like , you know?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I grant you the second 'which' clause, GWB (see my earlier post). But I'm really not sure about the first one: it doesn't, to me, have the cadence of everyday speech....:(
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    In AE, the issue is muddled. Many if not most speakers swap which and that
    with no particular consciousness. Ask the famous but elusive 'man on the street'
    to tell you the difference between a restrictive and nonrestrictive clause. Watch the
    counter-rotating eyeballs, the furrowed brow.

    Is it different for most BE speakers?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Not every Brit is a sophisticated grammarian, as you suspect, Cuchu. But most speakers would mark the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, and be amazed to be told that was what they were doing. I don't think the difference between which and that is generally taken as an indication of the restrictiveness or otherwise of a clause: I don't always observe the distinction, by any means.
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    Not every Brit is a sophisticated grammarian, as you suspect, Cuchu. But most speakers would mark the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, and be amazed to be told that was what they were doing. I don't think the difference between which and that is generally taken as an indication of the restrictiveness or otherwise of a clause: I don't always observe the distinction, by any means.
    Fowler, as quoted below in Wikipedia, seems have agreed with you:

    The dispute mainly concerns restrictive clauses: in informal American speech and in formal and informal British English that or which are both commonly (and apparently arbitrarily) used, but in formal American English it is generally recommended to use only that,[4] or to reduce to a zero clause. This rule was recommended in 1926 by H.W. Fowler, who observed, "Some there are who follow this principle now; but it would be idle to pretend that it is the practice either of most or of the best writers."[5] Some academics, such as Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky, maintain it is "a silly idea,"[6] but most professional writers adhere to it.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_relative_clauses#That_and_which
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I've personally (and I also need to do more eavesdropping) observed that it is the comma in the written form (or break in speaking) rather than the exclusive use of that or which, that reliably determines the nature of the restriction.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Moderator note.
    This thread has taken several turns from the topic.
    It is not about Fowler.
    It is not about that/which in relative clauses.
    It is ... well, read post #1.

    Comments about the use of non-restrictive clauses in spoken English are relevant.
    panjandrum
     
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