Nonrestrictive Clauses | Examples & Definition

Nonrestrictive clauses are a type of adjective clause (or relative clause) that gives nonessential, extra information about a noun or noun phrase. Nonrestrictive clauses begin with a relative pronoun (e.g., “which,” “who,” “whom,” or “whose”) and are set off from the sentence by commas.

Nonrestrictive clauses (also called nonessential clauses) can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning.

Nonrestrictive clause examples
Kelsey is attending Gonzaga University, which is in Washington.

My brother, who is two years younger than me, is graduating from high school.

Our next-door neighbors, whose yard is always overgrown, are out of town.

Amal’s nephew, whom he babysits frequently, is coming over today.

What is a nonrestrictive clause?

A nonrestrictive clause is one of two types of relative clauses (the other type is a restrictive clause). Relative clauses act as adjectives in sentences to modify a noun or pronoun.

Like all relative clauses, nonrestrictive clauses are dependent clauses, which means they cannot stand on their own as a sentence. They follow the noun they describe and typically begin with the relative pronouns “which,” “who,” “whom,” or “whose.”

Nonrestrictive clauses are used to give additional, nonessential information about the noun they describe. They can be removed from the sentence without changing its meaning and are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas.

Nonrestrictive clause sentence examples
Turmeric, which is a spice derived from a plant’s root, has many health benefits.
Turmeric has many health benefits. [without the relative clause]

I went to the concert with Maya, who loves live music.
I went to the concert with Maya. [without the relative clause]

Restrictive vs nonrestrictive clauses

The other type of relative clause is a restrictive clause (or essential clause), which also acts as an adjective to modify a noun.

However, unlike nonrestrictive clauses, restrictive clauses give essential identifying information and cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence or making the sentence unclear.

Restrictive vs nonrestrictive clause examples
The woman who is presenting is my boss.
My boss, who is presenting today, invited me to this meeting.

Avery wants the notebook that has a green cover.
I am bringing my favorite notebook, which has a green cover.

Nonrestrictive clauses are always set off from the rest of the sentence by commas, while restrictive clauses are not. If you are unsure whether a clause is nonrestrictive, try placing it in parentheses instead of commas. If the sentence still makes sense, then the use of a nonrestrictive clause is appropriate.

Additionally, note that restrictive clauses are often used with nouns representing general categories (e.g., “the woman,” “the notebook”), while nonrestrictive clauses are often used with more specific nouns (e.g., “my boss,” “my favorite notebook”). With proper nouns (e.g., “Steven,” “Hawaii”), nonrestrictive clauses are almost always used.

At times, the choice of restrictive or nonrestrictive clause depends entirely on the meaning you wish to communicate. Remember that restrictive clauses are used when a noun requires further identification or narrowing, and nonrestrictive clauses are used to give optional additional information.

Restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses examples
My colleagues who live in Dallas are attending a conference this week. [My colleagues live in different places. Those who live in Dallas are attending a conference.]

My colleagues, who live in Dallas, are attending a conference this week. [All of my colleagues live in Dallas and are attending a conference.]

Relative pronouns

All relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun. The most common relative pronouns and their uses are shown in the table below.

Relative pronoun Use Example
That
  • Describes things
  • Used in restrictive clauses
The phone that has a purple case is mine.
Which
  • Describes things
  • Used in nonrestrictive clauses
My phone, which has a purple case, stopped working today.
Who
  • Describes people
  • Used as a subject pronoun
  • Used in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses
The man who gave the presentation is my boss.

My boss, who is an expert in analytics, is presenting today.

Whose
  • Describes ownership
  • Used in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses
The person whose bag this is needs to move it.

My mom, whose bag was stolen, is at the police station.

Whom
  • Describes people
  • Used as an object pronoun
  • Used in restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses
The woman whom I sold my car to was very kind.

My neighbor, whom I sold my car to, is driving to California.

Note that the relative pronoun “that” is never used in nonrestrictive clauses. All of the other pronouns can be used in nonrestrictive clauses.

That vs which examples
  • Tobin’s apartment, which he has lived in for four years, is in the heart of the city.
  • Tobin’s apartment, that he has lived in for four years, is in the heart of the city.
  • The apartment that Tobin lives in is in the heart of the city.
Note
It is possible to drop the relative pronoun in certain restrictive clauses (e.g., “the car [that] Sonia owns”). However, relative pronouns are never dropped in nonrestrictive clauses.

  • I read “From Blossoms,” which Li-Young Lee wrote.
  • I read “From Blossoms,” Li-Young Lee wrote.

Frequently asked questions about nonrestrictive Clauses

Which word signals a nonrestrictive clause?

Nonrestrictive clauses, like all relative clauses (or adjective clauses), begin with a relative pronoun, typically “which,” “who,” “whom,” or “whose” (e.g., “I want to vacation in Majorca, which is part of Spain”).

The relative pronoun “that” is only used with restrictive clauses, never with nonrestrictive clauses.

Nonrestrictive clauses are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas.

Why are nonrestrictive clauses used?

Nonrestrictive clauses are used to give extra, nonessential information about a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase (e.g., “The summer Olympics, which take place every 4 years, will be in Paris”).

Unlike restrictive clauses, which are used to identify people or things, nonrestrictive clauses are typically used to give additional information about particular people or things. So, they are frequently used with specific nouns (e.g., “my mom,” “the new teacher,” “your house”) rather than general nouns (e.g., “kids,” “the man,” “books”).

When a relative clause is used to describe a proper noun (e.g., “David,” “Prospect Park”), a nonrestrictive clause is almost always used.

What is the difference between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses?

Both restrictive clauses and nonrestrictive clauses are types of relative clauses (or adjective clauses), which act as adjectives in sentences to describe nouns or pronouns.

  • Restrictive clauses give essential identifying information about the nouns they modify. They often answer the question “which one?” If they are removed from a sentence, the meaning of the sentence is changed or becomes unclear (e.g., “Apples that are picked too early are sour”).
  • Nonrestrictive clauses give extra, nonessential information about the nouns they modify. They can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning or making it unclear (e.g., “Apples, which are my favorite fruit, are high in fiber”).

Nonrestrictive clauses are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas. Restrictive clauses do not require commas.

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Kayla Anderson Hewitt, MA

Kayla has a master's degree in teaching English as a second language. She has taught university-level ESL and first-year composition courses. She also has 15 years of experience as an editor.