Grammar and Beyond #7 – Reducing non-identifying adjective clauses

Nigel Caplan

Non-identifying adjective clauses don’t follow the same rules for reduction as do identifying relative clauses. In today’s Grammar and Beyond post, Nigel Caplan looks at the conditions for their reduction.

One of my colleagues raised an interesting question the other day: why can’t we reduce non-identifying adjective clauses in the same way as identifying ones? This was the problem sentence:
Lynn, who is studying chemistry, wants to become a doctor.

A student had tried to write this:
* Lynn, studying chemistry, wants to become a doctor.

In an identifying clause, such a reduction would be correct:
The woman who is studying for her chemistry test is called Lynn.
The woman studying for her chemistry test is called Lynn.

The answer is that it is not usually grammatical to reduce non-identifying adjective clauses when the verb is in the continuous form (is studying) or passive (is built). Both these reductions are common in identifying clauses. For example:
The house damaged in the hurricane belongs to my parents.
But not: *My parents’ house, damaged in the hurricane, was a complete disaster.

However, there are at least two contexts in which non-identifying adjective clauses can be and often are reduced:

1) if the reduction creates an appositive clause (that is, a clause which essentially gives another name to the noun it modifies):
Lynn, (who is) my neighbor, is studying chemistry.
My parents’ house, (which is) located near the beach, survived the hurricane.

2) if the clause expresses a result or meaning, especially at the end of a sentence; in this case, the main verb is changed to its -ing form:
The computer network crashed, resulting in widespread panic. (which resulted)
Financial aid is available, meaning most students do not pay full tuition. (which means)

Students can also look out for these structures in their reading and bring them to class for discussion. The downloadable handout has practice exercises to help students recognize when and how to reduce their adjective clauses.

You can also read more grammar advice from Nigel and the Grammar and Beyond team here.

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