Is it necessary to add a comma before a result relative clause? For instance consider these sentence

John slipped in front of the bank, which was embarrasing.

You have to write thesis in the end which is cumbersome and lengthy process.

It is very confusing sometimes to know when is which being used as a result relative clause and when otherwise.

  • Should these sentences involve an embarrassing bank or a cumbersome end? I suspect that what's embarrassing is having slipped, and the cumbersome process is writing a thesis. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 9 '20 at 5:06
  • Yes, having slipped is embarrasing and writing thesis is cumbersome. Do these both sentences need a comma before which? – Sudhir Sharma Jul 9 '20 at 5:27
  • @Gary Botnovcan.. – Sudhir Sharma Jul 9 '20 at 5:29
  • I'd say so. As I parse these sentences, these relative clauses are supplemental. They relate to the entire preceding clause, not just to some nearby constituent like "the bank" or "the end". Commas make that more distant relationship more obvious. – Gary Botnovcan Jul 9 '20 at 5:39

[1] John slipped in front of the bank, [which was embarrassing].

[2] You have to write a thesis in the end, [which is a cumbersome and lengthy process].

It's not "which" that is the relative clause, but the whole bracketed elements.

The relatives here are clearly non-restrictive; they simply provided non-integrated content that is not required to identify something in the head clause. It is normal to mark off non-restrictive relative clauses with commas, dashes or parentheses.

Non-restrictive relatives are also spoken as a separate intonation unit, which is a more reliable guide to non-restrictiveness than punctuation.

Non-restrictive relatives often have antecedents consisting of verb phrases or even whole clauses. In [1] the antecedent is the whole head clause, where we understand that 'John's slipping in front of the bank was embarrassing'. In [2] the antecedent is the clause "to write a thesis": we understand that 'writing a thesis is a cumbersome and lengthy process'.

  • ...So will it be considered a punctuation mistake in the second sentence? – Sudhir Sharma Jul 9 '20 at 8:16
  • @SudhirSharma Yes, it should have a comma, otherwise the reader might momentarily assume it's a restrictive clause modifying "end", which would of course be silly. – BillJ Jul 9 '20 at 8:39

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