Amanda Lightfield

Mini-Grammar Lesson: Commas with Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Elements

  • Earlier this semester we talked about using a coma with a coordination conjunction between two independent clauses and using a coma with an introductory phrase. Today we’re going to talk about another place where comas are used or unnecessary.
  • The words sound a little complex and scary so let’s break it down
  • What does the word element mean?
    • In grammar, an element is a descriptive word, clause, or phrase
  • Restrictive: Example of a restricted driver’s license: There are certain rules you have to follow, that are essential for you to be able to drive.
    • Essential
    • P. 432 Example: “Many US states retest drivers who are over sixty-five to check their driving competency.”
  • Unrestrictive: non-essential, driving past 10:00 or with an adult, not important
    • Nonessential
    • Remember the prefixes –Un and –Non mean ‘NO’
    • P. 432 Example: “My parents, who are both over sixty-five, took a defensive-driving course.”
  • Restrictive and unrestrictive elements are treated differently in a sentence with commas:
    • Unrestrictive elements give extra information so they need extra commas
    • Restrictive elements are essential and therefore they do not need commas
  • P. 433 To test whether an element is nonrestrictive, read the sentence without the element. If the meaning of the sentence does not change, the element is nonrestrictive.
  • Sometimes whether to treat a relative clause as restrictive or nonrestrictive is simply a judgment call.
Restrictive Essential No commas
Nonrestrictive Nonessential Commas

In-class examples. Determine whether each sentence contains a restrictive or nonrestrictive element. Add commas if appropriate.

  1. The annual Dunder Mifflin report which was distributed yesterday compares the sales of all of the company branches.
  1. The employees in the accounting department have differing religious and moral values.
  1. Employees who work at Dunder Mifflin get to pick out their own birthday cake every year.
  1. Dwight Schrute the assistant to the regional manager lives on a 60-acre beet farm.
  1. Michael Scott the head of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company is inappropriate and offensive.
  1. Conflicts that arise in the office are usually politically incorrect and hilarious.

Your turn: Write your own sentences using the word(s) in parenthesis.

  1. (television show) ______________________________________________________________________________
  2. (character) ______________________________________________________________________________

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