I read that defining relative clauses are used to give essential information about someone or something, information that is needed in order to understand what or who is being referred to.

Is there a strict definition on whether the information is actually essential, and when the person or object being referred to actually needs more information to define it?

Like how do I know when the thing the clause is referring to is a specific or general? Are there words that help hint or indicate it?

  • 1
    'Essential' is a misnomer here. 'Specifying', 'identifying' and 'defining' (making a definite identification) are far better descriptors. // 'The camera, which I bought last week, has stopped working' uses the relative clause to tag on information. This imo is very important information. / 'The camera that I bought last week has stopped working' again uses the relative clause to tag on important information. But unlike the commaed version it also specifies: the implication is that I have more than one camera, and it is the one I bought last week that has stopped working. May 28 at 13:58
  • Does this answer your question? Confusion in identifying defining and non-defining relative clauses May 28 at 14:01
  • So whether it is a defining or non defining relative clause depends on the context? Also would an object with an adjective describing it count as a specified object? May 28 at 14:30
  • Warren has a sensible classification of the semantic roles of adjective usages, into classifier, identifier, and descriptor. The first two identify the noun's referent at the global and local level respectively. Note that again, usages are distinguished: 'The rusty old red car sat forlornly in the lane.' [descriptor] vs 'The red car was the one that scratched your van' (identifier). May 28 at 15:51
  • I think the example in that "possible duplicate" should be enlightening: The wedding, which only members of the family were invited to, took place on Friday. As it stands, that's a "non-defining relative clause", which many people would actually identify as such precisely because it's set off with commas (because it's an "optional, parenthetical" element; even if it wasn't present, the reader would know which wedding was being referred to). It's just incredibly unlikely that particular sentence would validly occur without commas / pauses (purely to distinguish that wedding from others). May 28 at 16:36


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