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The chemistry that Bacon first learned was really more like alchemy that used poetic, esoteric language to describe the interactions of metals and minerals.

A) NO CHANGE B) alchemy, which used C) alchemy using D) alchemy, the use of which

The correct answer (according to ACT) is B, but I chose A. The poetic, esoteric language used to describe alchemy is a restrictive clause and therefore requires the word "that" as opposed to "which."

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  • Hello and welcome to EL&U. At EL&U, we consider English as it is actually used. We’d ask what the intent was. If it was to express a type (or variant) of alchemy that employed poetic licence, you’re right. If it was to tie the term alchemy to chemistry and have the rest as commentary, pick answer B. You might also want to ask at English Language Learners for a different perspective.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 17, 2018 at 4:09

1 Answer 1

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In this case, their intent was clearly that it should be an non-restrictive clause. Here, the details about alchemy are supplementing our understanding of why it was like alchemy, rather than explaining which kind of alchemy it was.

Another way to talk about restrictive/non-restrictive that might make it clearer is "defining" and "non-defining" (respectively). A restrictive/defining relative clause should define "which one".

In this case, we can replace the sentence with a couple options, to see which one makes sense:

  • The chemistry that Bacon first learned was really more like the kind of alchemy that used poetic, esoteric language.
  • The chemistry that Bacon first learned was really more like alchemy because it used poetic, esoteric language.

The first option, because we're talking about "what kind", is the same as using a restrictive/defining relative clause.

The second option, because we're adding extra information (in this case a new subordinate clause) is similar to using a non-restrictive/non-defining clause.

Hope that helps!

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  • Glad I could help!
    – Drazex
    Aug 17, 2018 at 4:35
  • C also looks like a valid answer to me, without changing the meaning.
    – user184130
    Aug 17, 2018 at 6:49
  • If it's a restrictive/defining clause, then "using" would also be correct. In this case, it is better to use a non-restrictive/non-defining clause, which should be offset with commas. This comma offset would apply whether using "which used" or "using". IE, for a non-restrictive clause, "...like alchemy using poetic, ..." would be incorrect, but "...like alchemy, using poetic, ..." would be correct.
    – Drazex
    Aug 17, 2018 at 11:25

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