Always big meaning difference between defining relative clauses and non defining relative clauses?

1

Do you experts think there is always big meaning  difference between defining relative clauses and non defining relative clauses? 

 

Yesterday, I met a girl who lives in NY.

 

Yesterday, I met a girl, who lives in NY.

 

I know there can be difference in meaning, but sometimes I cannot see any difference between them. 

 

What do you experts think? Thank you as usual.

 

Cf. This is the answer I got from one of the experts here and I agreed with her ,but I am not  sure now.

 

Q : The meeting which is scheduled tomorrow is cancelled. The meeting, which is scheduled tomorrow, is cancelled.

 

A : I see no difference between the two, but to be completely clear you could always write"Tomorrow's meeting is cancelled".

edited Sep 20 '12 at 14:58 Hans Contributor

1 answer


2

Yes, there is always a difference in meaning, or rather the emphasis placed on the meaning.

 

On one level, the basic information contained in both restrictive (defining) and non-restrictive (non-defining) clauses is the same. But the punctuation tells us how important the information is to the meaning. Information in a non-restrictive clause can be left out and the reader will still understand the basic meaning. Think of a non-restrictive clause as providing extra information, possibly even important information, but not critical information. Often, only the context will tell you whether the clause should be restrictive or non-restrictive.

 

Let's take your example: The meeting that is scheduled tomorrow is cancelled. The meeting, which is scheduled tomorrow, is cancelled. Taken in isolation, either sentence could be correct. Now let's provide some context.

 

My calendar shows that I have a meeting every day next week. But the meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, is now cancelled. This sentence is not grammatically correct. You cannot remove the non-restrictive clause without destroying the meaning --> My calendar shows that I have a meeting every day next week. But the meeting is now cancelled.

 

In this context, the only correct choice is: My calendar shows that I have a meeting every day next week. But the meeting that is scheduled for Tuesday is now cancelled.

 

I hope this helps.

    

link edited Sep 20 '12 at 15:47 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Thank you, but the problem is that when I listen to English, how can I distinguish between them? I do not think all native English speakers follow the rule of putting a pause at commas and it is not easy to find suitable contexts for right relative clauses all the time. So even native English speakers could misunderstand each other's English and make mistakes in using the rule of punctuation by any chance?

HansSep 21 '12 at 00:06

In Standard English, the difference is both the punctuation and the choice of that versus which. That is used with restrictive clauses and which is used with nonrestrictive clauses. But many speakers ignore this rule. To tell the difference, you have to listen carefully. The non-restrictive use tends to have a little pause before and after and the voice drops slightly -- almost as if the speaker is telling you a secret. With the restrictive, the voice tends to rise a bit on that/which, giving the word greater emphasis. Thankfully, even if we hear a non-relative clause wrong, the extra information hurts nothing. The misunderstanding is only a problem if the information is omitted.

Jeff PribylSep 21 '12 at 01:01

"Thankfully, even if we hear a non-relative clause wrong, the extra information hurts nothing." What a relief it is!! Your explanation is always so clear and helpful and even if misunderstanding happens, it hurts nothing in some cases? That is so impressive and I would like to make sure I got you right. Thank you so much.

HansSep 21 '12 at 01:13

If I tell you "The meeting, which is tomorrow, is cancelled" and that is the only we both know about, then the extra information "the meeting is tomorrow" doesn't hurt even if it is not needed. But if I say "The meeting is cancelled" and we both know about five different meetings, then you will wonder "which meeting?"

Jeff PribylSep 21 '12 at 03:14

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