Hello, Rachel and Richard:

The man, rather nervous, opened the letter. [6a]

When it follows the subject, as in [6a], [the supplementive adjective clause] is in some respects like a nonrestrictive relative clause (cf 17.22ff):

The man, who was nervous, opened the letter.

But the adjective clause suggests that the man's nervousness is related to the content of the sentence, whereas the relative clause does not necessarily convey that implication.

Quirk, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, p. 425

I'm not quite getting the bolded part. What could it be conveying instead?

Original Post
My guess:

The man, rather nervous, opened the letter.

This might indicate that the man was nervous because he was waiting to read sth worrisome in the letter. He was nervous because of the letter and what it contained.

The man, who was nervous, opened the letter.

The man was nervous before opening the letter because of sth other than the letter.

I think this is what can be inferred from Quirk's explanation. I can make myself feel the same way too. I mean it does not sound very odd to me. When we put the verb was in the second sentence, it somehow seperates the idea of nervousness from opening the letter, while in the first sentence, there is not such a gap or space, so the nervousness sounds very much closer to opening the letter.

I think they're referring to the parenthetical nature of the non-resrictive relative clause.

Non-restrictive relative clauses are divided into two subtypes: parenthetical and continuative, though both have something in common in that they express the speaker's comments.

Parenthetical non-restrictive relative clauses always appear in the middle of a sentence, and the information they express is outside the sentence. In other words, the speaker is just giving an extra information about "the man" for the benefit of their listener(s), and the information conveyed by "who was nervous" is less logically connected to what the matrix sentence is saying.

I think this might help you.
(i) "I love you," said Lisa, which was a lie.

The characters in the book may or may not believe her, but what is clear is that you know that she is lying, just because the author tells you so.

So, (parenthetical) non-restrictive relative clauses are just something outside the main clause.

Seiichi MYOGA
The appositive adjective clause rather nervous describes how the man felt just before the moment of opening the letter, Jerry.

The appositive relative clause who was nervous I think implies "he was the nervous type," i.e., describing more a normal characteristic of that guy rather than how he was feeling at the moment just before opening the letter.

I think this is what Quirk et al. were getting at. Of course, Jerry, both examples seem to be "reaching" as far as I'm concerned. They've been put into the book to fine-tune a grammatical point, but they're not sentences you'd normally hear or come across in reading just the way they're presented here. (Sometimes this annoys me.)
Both constructions mean that the man felt nervous.

'The man, who was rather nervous,...' means that he was a nervous person.

'The man, rather nervous...,' suggests that he was nervous at the time because he was opening the letter.

He probably did open the letter in a nervous manner too, but the sentences apply to his state of mind, not how he opened the letter.

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