1. John , who was injured , left the field.

  2. It was John who was injured , not Brown (This is a restrictive clause, because there is no comma after John)

Question 1: In the second sentence: Can we use a comma after John, as non-restrictive relative clause? Question 2. Or when a relative clause is used with 'It' to emphasize the noun (John), is the relative clause considered as a restrictive relative clause?

More examples: 3 .It was England which Brown lives in. 4. It was in 1993 that it happened.

2 Answers 2


a. It was John who was injured, not Brown.

b. It was England which Brown lives in.

c. It was in 1993 that it happened.

All three examples involve it-cleft constructions. The usual punctuation convention is to not insert a comma between the matrix clause and its relative clause. For example:

  • It was John [who was injured].

In the above example, the matrix clause is "It was John", and its relative clause is what is in italics "who was injured". Some grammar books will refer to that relative clause as an integrated relative clause.

(ASIDE: Instead of the term integrated relative clause, some of the older grammars use the older term restrictive relative clause. The use of the term restrictive relative clause can often be misleading, for that kind of relative clause does not always have a restrictive kind of functionality.)

In an it-cleft, the relative clause does not have a restrictive kind of functionality.

In general, the it-cleft's relative clause is used to hold the background info, while the matrix clause is used to foreground the important info. For example:

  • b. It was England which Brown lives in.

The important info is "England", and it is foregrounded via the matrix clause. The less important info is backgrounded via the relative clause (since we can usually assume that Brown does live somewhere, and so, that info can be backgrounded, that he lives somewhere). A corresponding canonical type of clause could be "Brown lives in England".

  • When we say " It was John who was injured" (without comma) ,Doesn't it mean there might be other persons named John ?
    – Dinusha
    Oct 28, 2014 at 21:22
  • @Dinusha No, what it means is "John was injured." -- We would use your example (the it-cleft) when we already know that someone was injured but we don't know who that person was, and so the speaker wants to emphasis to us that the unknown person was John.
    – F.E.
    Oct 28, 2014 at 23:19
  • It was England which Brown lives in? which or where?
    – Maulik V
    Oct 29, 2014 at 9:34
  • @Maulik V I think 'It was England which Brown lives in' is equal to 'It was England where Brown lives'
    – Dinusha
    Oct 29, 2014 at 10:00
  • 1
    Hey, please don't delete them yet!:) I need some time to reflect and, erm, retract my free relative (yes, yes, yes, I know, I know) and explicate my fused relative confusion ... Oct 30, 2014 at 23:46

John, who was injured, left the field.

The comma after 'John' plays a crucial role in introducing John. Who John? The one who was injured. So, here, the comma makes the sense.

It was John who was injured, not Brown

The comma after 'injured' is merely separating John from Brown. It does not introduce John the way the first sentence does. You can't use comma after John. It was... already introduces him!

There's a clear difference between restrictive/non-restrictive. Non-restrictive clauses would generally have two commas.

Very good read is here.

  • Here's an example of a non restrictive relative clause in a cleft sentence: "It was John, who was injured, who left the field".
    – tunny
    Oct 28, 2014 at 20:43
  • @tunny What is the difference between cleft sentence "It was John, who was injured." (non-restrictive) and "It was John who was injured." (restrictive)?
    – Dinusha
    Oct 29, 2014 at 9:27
  • In "It was John, who was injured, who left the field", the information that John was injured is extra information, not essential to the main clause "It was John who left the field. The commas round the non-restrictive clause act in a similar way to brackets. In "It was John who was injured, the "who was injured" is essential to the meaning of the whole sentence.
    – tunny
    Oct 29, 2014 at 9:38
  • @tunny did I say something different in my answer than your last comment? :)
    – Maulik V
    Oct 29, 2014 at 9:56
  • No. I was merely responding to a question from Dinusha, who seemed unclear about the non-restrictive clause I had used in a cleft sentence.
    – tunny
    Oct 29, 2014 at 10:38

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