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restrictive element


restrictive element

Guideline for punctuating a restrictive element (such as the dependent clause in italics)


A word, phrase, or dependent clause that limits (or restricts) the meaning of the element it modifies while providing information essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Unlike a nonrestrictive element, a restrictive element is not set off with commas or dashes.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
    (Mark Twain)

  • "A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."
    (Mark Twain)

  • "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
    (Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759)

  • "A poet more than thirty years old is simply an overgrown child."
    (H. L. Mencken)

  • "It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf."
    (H. L. Mencken)

  • "Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy."
    (H. L. Mencken)

  • "A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers."
    (H. L. Mencken)

  • "The dirt road that winds through Kentery in Mallima Bari teems with people, donkeys, and dogs dodging the puddles and ruts left by a recent rain. The village is close to the strip of asphalt that stretches from Addis Ababa south to Ethiopia's border with Kenya, and Kentery has the feel of a place that attracts some attention from the traffic whizzing by, but not too much."
    (Coco McCabe, "Ethiopia: To Transform the Earth." OXFAMExchange, Fall 2011)

  • "A restrictive element, or defining clause, . . . is a piece of information that is crucial to the meaning of a sentence. The mistake of marking it out with commas would signal its status as as additional rather than essential information, leading to confusion and inaccuracy. Consider the different meanings implied in the two versions of this sentence: 'The two students, who were found guilty of plagiarism, failed the course' / 'The two students who were found guilty of plagiarism failed the course.' In the first version, the fact that the students were guilty of plagiarism is not signaled as the reason for their failure. This is presented as additional information and as such may be just a coincidence. In the second version, the plagiarism is presented as a restrictive element: it is crucial information and thus indicates that it is the reason why the students failed the course."
    (Tory Young, Studying English Literature: A Practical Guide. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008)
Also Known As: restrictive modifier, essential phrase, defining element
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