Clauses beginning with who, which, that
Nonessential clauses are set off by commas; essential clauses are not set off by commas.
Nonessential clause: My mother, who was Italian, made great pasta.
Because I had only one mother, the clause “who was Italian” doesn’t identify her, so it’s nonessential. I can leave it out and still have a sentence that means what I want it to mean: My mother made great pasta
Essential clause: The woman who lives upstairs makes great pasta.
If I leave the clause “who lives upstairs out, I have the sentence “The woman makes great pasta.” Which woman? The clause “who lives upstairs is essential because it identifies the woman being talked about.
Nonessential clause: Mr. Smith’s cat, which scratched my dog, is dead.
The clause “which scratched my dog” doesn’t identify the cat; it’s Mr. Smith’s cat.
Essential clause: The cat that scratched my dog is dead
The clause “that scratched my dog” is essential because it identifies the cat.
Put commas where needed in the following sentences:
- CEOs who believe they don’t get big enough bonuses held a cry-in.
- Edmonton which was the second coldest place on the planet a couple of years ago is not a hotbed of anti-global warming activism.
- Republicans who like Trump often don’t admit it.
- People who do colon cleanses are still full of it.
- Emily who always believed she was a Libra found out that her mother lied about her date of birth.
- Employees who do coffee enemas in the hallways will be disciplined.
- The movie which we saw last night was terrible.
- Bill Carson who owns a condo in Victoria spends most of his time in California.
- The Bill Carson who owns a condo in Victoria spends most of his time in California.
- Some nuns don’t enjoy any game that they don’t win.
Answers: 1. No commas. If you set “who don’t believe they get big enough bonuses” off with commas, you are implying that all CEOs feel that way. 2. Commas after “Edmonton” and “ago.” 3. No commas. If you set “who like Trump” off with commas, you are implying that all Republicans like Trump, which is surely untrue. 4. No commas. The clause “who do colon cleanses” is essential because it identifies the people we are talking about. Setting the clause off with commas would imply that all people happen to do colon cleanses and are full of it. 5. No commas. Because Emily is named, the clause “who always believed she was a Libra” is not identifying her, so it’s nonessential. 6. No commas. All employees don’t do coffee enemas in the hallways. 7. No commas. 8. Commas after “Carson” and “Victoria. 9. No commas. The article “the” before the name “Bill Carson” indicates that there are at least two Bill Carsons, and the sentence is about the one who owns a condo in Victoria, so the clause is essential. 10. No commas.