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When I have to decide whether a clause is restrictive/non-restrictive I typically figure out whether the information in the restrictive clause is, in my opinion, necessary. Is this correct or is the fundamental definition that the sentence would grammatically be incomplete without the restrictive clause. I saw some examples where the sentence would be complete without the corresponding restrictive clause, but would like to have a definite answer. Example sentence is:

Would you lend me the video that you told me about last month?

In my understanding, the sentence would be grammatically correct without the restrictive clause ("would you lend me the video?"), and thus, the definition of a restrictive clause depends on the writers judgment!

Thank you!

  • Supplementary (non-restrictive) that relatives are very rare and only marginally present in Standard English. Your example can thus only be integrated (restrictive). – BillJ Feb 19 '18 at 12:19
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A nonrestrictive/non-essential relative clause may be omitted if it doesn't change the structure or the meaning of the sentence. Leaving out [that] you told me about last month yields a grammatical sentence but omits an essential feature:

“Would you lend me the video?”

My immediate response is going to be

“Which video?”

The relative clause is essential to my knowing which video you mean, thus is restrictive.

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  • Thank you for the answer. I will have to ask one more question to clarify whether I understood you correctly as I gave an example that could lead to ambiguity since I introduced another person: Consider I would have written "We are going to prepare reports [that are describing in detail the process of....]". Is this still a restrictive clause because without it the reader wouldn't know what kind of reports I prepared? Essentially the question is: who decides whether the meaning of the sentence depends on the "restrictive" clause or not. – Sebastian E Feb 19 '18 at 16:01
  • Yes, that's an essential relative clause. You answered your own question: "without it the reader wouldn't know" which reports. If you can answer the question "which [noun]?" without using the clause, then it's non-essential. If you need the clause, then it's essential. – KarlG Feb 19 '18 at 16:29
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It is often a common error to omit the relative clause, which is extremely critical in defining the preceding noun. In this case, "the video" is an extremely general term, and can refer to any video. Hence, a relative clause is needed to define that it is the one mentioned a month ago.

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