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I was editing my essay and the editor software warned me that the comma is unnecessary.

Some people claim that English will consequently become the one and only language, which is spoken worldwide.

My intention was to comment on the sentence. In this case comma is necessary as I think it's a non-defining relative clause. However, the noun 'language' refers to one of the previous nouns, 'English', and that might be the reason a comma is not necessary here.

Is the comma necessary here?

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    If the only language, it must be the one spoken worldwide - not a secondary thought. The language which (or that) is spoken worldwide. The clause which is spoken worldwide makes sense only in a restrictive sense. The comma interferes. Aug 21, 2022 at 20:12
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    My 2¢: Just as soon as any language achieved that status, it would begin to splinter into hundreds of dialects, and then into other languages.
    – Robusto
    Aug 22, 2022 at 12:17
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    Note that using that instead of which would make the meaning much less ambiguous. Aug 22, 2022 at 20:18

4 Answers 4

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The comma is not just unecessary; keeping it results in an erroneous meaning. It must be removed.

Here is why. Keeping this comma results in a relative clause that is of the so-called descriptive (also called "non-defining" or "non-restrictive") sort.

(Walden University) Nonrestrictive Clause

A nonrestrictive clause adds additional information to a sentence. It is usually a proper noun or a common noun that refers to a unique person, thing, or event. It uses commas to show that the information is additional. The commas almost act like parentheses within the sentence. If the information between the commas is omitted, readers will still understand the overall meaning of the sentence. A nonrestrictive clause is also known as a nonessential clause or phrase.

It follows from this that if you keep the comma

(Some people claim that English will consequently become the one and only language, which is spoken worldwide.)

the part before the comma must make sense on its own.

It doesn't.

  • Some people claim that English will consequently become the one and only language.

What this says is that English will replace all languages on Earth; the discussion that precedes is very probably not concerned with the existence of a unique language in the World but instead it is referring to a common language on top of national ones; in other words "the one and only language" is not the correct term and it has to be defined (restricted) ; this is done by "gluing" to it (so to speak) the part "which is spoken worldwide"; this gluing is effected by using no comma.

  • the one and only language which is spoken worldwide

Keeping the comma has even the additional effect of creating an implicit redundancy: since English is the only language in the World it is necessarily spoken Worldwide. This means that it is not even possible to find a context for this sentence if the comma is kept.

A simple case

  • The sun is the only star whose colour is yellow. (essential clause)
  • The sun is the only star. (not true in the most general context of astronomy)
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The sentence has two different meanings, depending on the comma.

With the comma, it means that English will be the only language; no other languages will be spoken at all. And English will therefore be spoken worldwide. (This is your "non-defining relative clause".)

Without the comma, it means that of all the languages that are still spoken, only English will be spoken worldwide.

Without more context, it's difficult to know which one you mean; but the second one sounds more plausible.

But it is wrong to say that the comma is unnecessary here; its presence or absence determines the meaning of the sentence. And in cases like "You're the one, that I want", it is not just unnecessary; it is downright wrong. So in both cases "unnecessary" is the wrong word.

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    I think "English will become the only language, which is spoken worldwide" is not even grammatically correct. "English will become the only language which is spoken worldwide" and "English will become the only language, and it will be spoken worldwide" are both grammatically correct. But "English will become the only language, which is spoken worldwide" is not.
    – Stef
    Aug 22, 2022 at 16:27
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The position of the relative clause suggests that it describes “the one and only language”; it therefore could be restrictive:

Some people claim that English will consequently become the one and only language which is spoken worldwide.

or nonrestrictive (with a slightly different meaning):

Some people claim that English will consequently become the one and only language, which will be spoken worldwide.

(Note that I changed the verb tense.)

If that clause were moved after “English”, then it would have to be nonrestrictive (assuming that it referred to the language in general and not one specific variety of it):

Some people claim that English, which is spoken worldwide, will consequently become the one and only language.

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It's incorrect. You should write:

"Some people claim that English will consequently become the one and only language (that is) spoken worldwide."

The structure "..., which..." is not interchangeable with "...that..."

"that" in the context of that sentence, can be implied, and thus invisible.

Yes, you can argue, that there is a sentence with a different meaning that is conveyed in the form you present, but it's a bit of a stretch. That meaning would be making a claim that "English will (inevitably) be spoken worldwide (at some point in the future), but it's still a subclause. "which" is not really for relative clauses; "that" is.

You may notice that "which" should always follow a comma, because it's for inserting a sub-clause. "That", on the other hand, performs a different conjunctive function. Many, if not most, people tend to use "which" when they should really use "that" for conveying the meaning they intend, and they seem to think it's more correct, but it really isn't: it's clunky and crap. It's like when people keep saying "literally" for things that aren't literal; or, "that begs the question", when they really mean "that prompts the question". I've even watched politicians used the word "hypothecate" to mean a fancy way of saying "hypothesise". This quasi-intellectual butchery and bemanglement (yes, I just made that up - but consistent with English form) of the English language is one way that words are shoehorned into hideous neologisms they aren't made for.

It's not about nebulous things like "style" or "usage", a sentence is supposed to be a complete thought; and syntax, grammar, and punctuation, is there to express the nuances and specific meaning and intent of that thought.

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  • Or ", spoken worldwide." Depending on the intended meaning.
    – philipxy
    Aug 23, 2022 at 3:33
  • Yes, but that's still not a relative clause: the original question is ill-posed. Aug 23, 2022 at 18:26

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