I have two cases.

a) He sent me a letter written in English.

b) I was given a cup made in China from my friend.

I personally think sentence (a) should be non-restrictive since there is only one letter in question and the writer is not trying to specify which. So if you were to write this sentence using a relative pronoun, it would look like this: "He sent me a letter, which was written in English." My question is whether to leave the comma when you leave out the relative pronoun and be-verb. I did read articles saying unless the participial phrase is modifying the subject, don't put a comma, but I'm not sure if it applies to the non-restrictive participial phrase also.

As for sentence (b), is it okay to put "made in China" at the end of a sentence, i.e. I was given a cup from my friend made in China? Here, I think there should be a comma in front of "made in China" because that phrase is not modifying the word immediately preceding it. So which is "passable" of the following?

  1. I was given a cup from my friend, made in China.
  2. I was given a cup from my friend made in China.

Thanks guys.

  • My comma usage is terrible, but should there even be a letter in your example with the relative pronoun? My intuition would say no... :\ – davecw Oct 14 '14 at 0:13
  • Also, it is ok to put China on the end, but it introduces ambiguity - is it the cup or the friend made in China? I actually think it leans more towards suggesting the friend is. It also feels somewhat poetic to construct the sentence that way. Once again, I personally would opt for no comma, but I may be wrong. – davecw Oct 14 '14 at 0:16
  • Concerning your first comment, I'm not following what you mean by "a letter in your example." – funct7 Oct 14 '14 at 4:32
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    In example (b), why would you not say "My friend gave me a cup made in China" (if your friend gave it to you directly) or "I received a cup made in China from my friend" (if it arrived in the mail or through an intermediary)? – Sven Yargs Dec 11 '14 at 5:44
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    But in "a," the assumption is that a non-restrictive relative pronoun would clarify the true meaning of the sentence. Context is everything. Suppose the preceding sentence was "My friend writes in three languages.": The following sentence could well be "He sent me a letter that was written in English." So a restrictive relative pronoun, which requires no comma. However, the following sentence could also be "He sent me a letter, which was written in English." In the former the emphasis would be on both letter and English; in the latter, the emphasis would be on letter. In the OP, equal emp. – Zan700 Jun 7 '17 at 2:32

the real problem with "I was given a cup made in China from my friend" is that it is in the passive voice. If I were editing a paper, I would recommend changing it to the active voice. My friend gave me a cup made in China; though my personal preference would be to include "which." So, "My friend gave me a cup which was made in China."

  • 1
    Hello, karyse. That's not a real problem. The passive is quite appropriate in many contexts, and there is insufficient context here to deem it inappropriate. Sven and rhetorician have already stated that an active alternative may well be preferable here. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 8 '16 at 15:53
  • Welcome to EL&U. As a reminder, this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, so while alternative phrasings may be appropriate, answers should also address the original question directly. I encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – choster Dec 8 '16 at 16:20

Sentence A is actually restrictive, since the letter is the only noun that can be "written in English," and thus does not require a comma.

Sentence B is tricky, and I wouldn't recommend changing it. The way it is currently written ("I was given a cup made in China from my friend") hinges on the participle "made in China" as a modifier for the cup. If you change the sentence around and place the "made in China" at the end of the sentence, you create a dangling modifier. A big no-no.

Option one ("I was given a cup from my friend, made in China") is the dangling modifier sentence.

Option two ("I was given a cup from my friend made in China"), however, isn't good either because it reads as if your friend was made in China. The recommended fix for a dangling modifier is to move the participle to the noun it was meant to modify. Which means we're back to Sentence B ("I was given a cup made in China from my friend") as the correct version.

I hope this helped.

P.S. The general rule behind commas if you're unsure is "if in doubt, leave it out." :)

  • What about "My friend gave me a cup made in China"? Restrictive in that case, no? – ewormuth Aug 15 '15 at 0:26

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