Skip to main content

Can one say:
1-I called my cousin, in Germany.
instead of:
2-I called my cousin, who is in Germany.

Can one say:
3-I read his book, about the Big Bang.
instead of:
4-I read his book, which is about the Big Bang.

Can one say:
5-I went to the ABC bar, on the fifth avenue.
instead of:
6-I went to the ABC bar, which is on the fifth avenue.

In each case we have non-restrictive (ie. non-defining clauses).
Last edited {1}
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

In sentences 1, 3, 5 you have a prepositional phrase rather than a relative clause. When I see those sentences punctuated with a comma as you have them, I read them with a short pause and it seems that I'm adding that bit of information as an afterthought.

In sentences 2, 4, 6, the comma is OK and the added information is just a normal part of the sentence, not an afterthought. A non-restrictive clause.
Hi, Okaasan,

On the basis of earlier discussions I've had with Navi, I suspect he's supposing that the speaker in (1) and (2) has only one cousin (who happens to live in Germany); that the author of the book mentioned in (3) and (4) has written only one book (which happens to be about the Big Bang); and that the city in which the ABC bar mentioned in (5) and (6) is located has only one ABC bar (which happens to be on the fifth avenue).

If so, wouldn't the prepositional phrases in (1), (3), and (5) be nonrestrictive and therefore need to be set off with commas from the standpoint of meaning. As an indication of an afterthought, the use of a comma would appear, by contrast, to be a purely optional, rhetorical use.

Just to take one instance, the prepositional phrase in a comma-less version of (3) ("I read his book about the Big Bang") seems to be specifying which book of his that the speaker read -- the one about the Big Bang -- and therefore to be implying that the author wrote more than one book. But if the author being mentioned wrote only one book, that implication would be incorrect. Therefore, the comma would appear to be necessary from the standpoint of semantic precision.

Would you agree with that assessment? Part of me hesitates to say that a comma to set off a nonrestrictive prepositional phrase is necessary in such minimalistic sentences. It sort of seems like clutter -- albeit of a logically fastidious variety!

Thanks,
David
Last edited by David, Moderator
Thank you Okaasan.

This got a bit more complicated than I had hoped.

1-I called my cousin, in Germany.
3-I read his book, about the Big Bang.
5-I went to the ABC bar, on the fifth avenue.

Do these imply that
a-I have only one cousin
b-he has written only one book
c-there is only one ABC Bar in the city
respectively?

And if we take the comma out, would they imply that:
d-I have more than one cousin
e-he has written more than one book
f-there is more than one ABC Bar in this city (a chain)
resepectively?
Thanks David.
I meant that I had hoped the situation would not get this complicated. Is my sentence wrong?


PS1-Oh! I just saw your post! We must have posted at about the same time. I had not seen it!

PS2- I just read your post David and I entirely agree with your question and your hesitations!
It had not been posted at the same time as mine, but earlier! I do not know why I had not seen it.

Gratefully
Navi

PS3-I am not sure the "restrictive/nonrestrictive rules" apply to prepositional phrases. And yet "I read his book about the Big Bang." seems to imply that he has written more than one book. Maybe one could consider the sentence ambiguous.
Can "his book about the Big Bang" not be considered as a single unit?
Last edited by navi
Hi, Navi,

I can't tell you how happy and relieved I am that this was a misunderstanding! Thank you so much for clarifying what happened. As we Californians sometimes say, "No worries!" Smile

My understanding is that the distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive does apply to prepositional phrases. I learned this from the book that got me started (rigorously) in grammar: The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference (2005), by Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson. I'd like to share with you the following excerpt from that book:
quote:
"The failure to use punctuation to set off nonrestrictive prepositional phrases results in illogical sentences and sentences that distort the writer's intended meaning. In the sentence She lived in San Francisco until her death in 2002, for example, the prepositional phrase in 2002 is functioning restrictively. It is distinguishing the woman's death in 2002 from her death in some other year. In other words, the sentence is implying that the woman died more than once. Surely, however, that is not the writer's intended meaning. The prepositional phrase in 2002 is in fact providing only supplementary information, not essential information. Inserting a comma before the prepositional phrase will resolve the problem" (p. 223).
In response to your post before last, I think that if you want implications (a), (b), and (c) to apply, sentences (1), (3), and (5) should be left as is; and that if you want implications (d), (e), and (f) to apply, the comma in each of those three sentences should be removed. Without the comma, the prepositional phrase in sentence (1) specifies which cousin (out of a set of more than one cousin) you called; the prepositional phrase in (2) specifies which book of his (out of a set of more than one book of his) that you read; and the prepositional phrase in sentence (3) specifies which ABC bar (out of a set of more than one ABC bar in the city) that you went to. But if there is only one cousin of yours, one book of his, and one ABC bar in the city, each prepositional phrase is nonrestrictive and should be set off with a comma.

Does that make sense to you? I believe my interpretation is compatible with Okaasan's. A nonrestrictive prepositional phrase states a supplementary, nonessential detail. The meaning of the noun phrase that a nonrestrictive prepositional phrase modifies would be unambiguous without it. Thus, it makes sense that adding a comma and a nonrestrictive prepositional phrase would have the quality of sounding like an afterthought. I think it's a different way of looking at the same thing.

Cheers,
David
Thanks a lot David.

It is good that the misunderstanding has been cleared up. I am really sorry about that, but it was really due to no fault of mine.

Your answer does make sense and what is more you provide references for what you say.

To misquote Descartes:
You think methodically therefore you are correct!

Gratefully,
Navi.
Last edited by navi
I've ink, therefore I jam. Smile

Thank you, Navi. As a nonrestrictive afterthought, I wanted to tell you that my reason for pursuing this matter in such detail, both in this thread and in the recent one with the Leuvre Museum example, is that I think about this issue regularly when writing.

For example, the other day I was writing an e-mail to a friend and needed to decide between writing I lived at her house with So-and-so from 2001 to 2004 and I lived at her house, with So-and-so, from 2001 to 2004. After reflecting for a moment, I realized that if I wrote the sentence without the commas I would be implying that I might have lived at my ex-landlady's house without So-and-so for some period of time before 2001 or after 2004. To avoid that implication, I used the sentence with the two commas. The prepositional phrase with So-and-so was, I concluded, nonrestrictive.

Deciding whether a prepositional phrase is restrictive or nonrestrictive is not always easy, but getting it right and knowing you've gotten it right (especially in the difficult cases) can be, I've found, one of life's little literary pleasures.

David
Hi, Navi,

In response to your post before last, I think that if you want implications (a), (b), and (c) to apply, sentences (1), (3), and (5) should be left as is; and that if you want implications (d), (e), and (f) to apply, the comma in each of those three sentences should be removed. Without the comma, the prepositional phrase in sentence (1) specifies which cousin (out of a set of more than one cousin) you called; the prepositional phrase in (2) specifies which book of his (out of a set of more than one book of his) that you read; and the prepositional phrase in sentence (3) specifies which ABC bar (out of a set of more than one ABC bar in the city) that you went to. But if there is only one cousin of yours, one book of his, and one ABC bar in the city, each prepositional phrase is nonrestrictive and should be set off with a comma.

Cheers,
David

Though this discussion took this place for a long time ago, I would like to ask a question.

1-I called my cousin, in Germany.
3-I read his book, about the Big Bang.
5-I went to the ABC bar, on the fifth avenue.

Q1) Then do you think that sentences (1), (3), (5), where a comma is inserted, are correct English when sentences (1), (3), (5) imply (a), (b), (c)?

a-I have only one cousin
b-he has written only one book
c-there is only one ABC Bar in the city



If so,

A. Tell Tom to put the leaves in the compost box, in the garden.

B. I was talking to Tom, next to Sally.

Q2) Are even sentences A and B, where a comma is inserted, correct English when "in the garden" and "next to sally" describe "the compost box" and "Tom"?

I inserted the comma in sentences A and B, because there is only one compost box, and Tom is the only one person.

Last edited by MinJ

Add Reply

×
×
×
×
Link copied to your clipboard.
×