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Here's a quote from A Student's Introduction to English Grammar:

[11]   i  Martha has [two sons who are still at school] and [two who are at university].  

In [i] the relative clauses certainly are semantically restrictive: they distinguish two sets of sons (evidently Martha has at least four in all).

Is it possible to add commas like this?

Martha has two sons, who are still at school, and two, who are at university.

If so, does this mean that she has only four sons, not that she has at least four?

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  • That's a British example. It doesn't make sense in North America.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 3:24
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    If you need four or more sons here, you must have zero commas. Your last example doesn't make sense for any number of sons. Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 3:30
  • @tchrist Do you mean [11i] or my own sentence?
    – listeneva
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 4:10
  • Here we would say that she has four sons in school, with two in college and two still in high school. School complety covers both here and more besides, and we don't use university without an article the way we do with college. The use of at for in might also sound off; it just depends. Saying someone is at college doesn't always mean the same thing as saying that they're in college.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 4:54
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    @Peter We'd just say college. You really don't distinguish between college and university here, as for the most part those are not different. Sometimes we say grad school or law school or medical school or nursing school and such when it’s beyond a Bachelor degree, etc. Trade school is a bit of stretch though. You'd expect a state university to award postgraduate degrees, but local or community colleges may not.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 5:19

1 Answer 1

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With the commas in your last example the sentence could be reduced to

Martha has two sons, and two.

This does not make sense. To say that she has two sons at school and two sons at university you would need

Martha has two sons at school, and two at university.

The comma here could be left out as well.

The sentence does not strictly imply that Martha has no other children, but it is reasonable for a reader to expect that there are no others.

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  • What if another is added? Martha has two sons, who are still at school, and another two, who are at university.
    – listeneva
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 4:09
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    That would work, but I would still prefer it without the commas before "who".
    – Peter
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 5:04
  • The only way in which the commas would work would be to treat all four sons as a group and say "Martha has four sons, two of whom are at school and two at university." In that case the second part of the sentence gives more information, can be omitted without destroying the sentence, and should, therefore, be separated from the first part by a comma.
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 7:35

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