How do commas change the meaning in these two sentences? Do they have a different meaning and how and why do the commas have this effect (if there is one)?

1 - The teacher who was very fair was the most popular with the children.

2 - The teacher, who was very fair, was the most popular with the children.

  • Welcome to EL&U. I can't give you a full answer as am mad busy. However, in the first sentence who was very fair is being used by the speaker to help the listener identify which teacher is being discussed here. In the second sentence the listener already knows which teacher is being discussed and the relative clause who was very fair is being used to give extra information about the teacher and also has its own assertive content. In other words the speaker is actually commenting that the teacher was fair, as opposed to just using this info to identify the teacher. Apr 27 '17 at 19:18
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    In this example, there is not great deal of difference in terms of the information that the listener receives (although it is very different in its feel and presentation). However, there are many such pairs of sentences where the meaning changes dramatically. Consider a party with 100 guests: "A bomb went off and all the guests who were in the garden died" versus "A bomb went off and all the guests, who were in the garden, died". In the second sentence 100 people died, but in the first it may only have been three. Apr 27 '17 at 19:22

In the first sentence, a whole bunch of teachers (probably working for the same school) and their qualities are being discussed.

In the second sentence, a particular teacher is the subject of discussion.

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    Indeed, the first sentence addresses the question "which teacher was the most popular", while the second tells us two things about the teacher being discussed. Apr 27 '17 at 19:31

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