Non-restrictive 'that'

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In the most recent Between Failures, an nice example of a non-restrictive relative clause (or a supplementary relative clause, as Geoff Pullum would prefer) introduced by that rather than which:



30 Comments

  1. Jeff Carney said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

    I admit it threw me a bit, but I think it had as much to do with the suspension of "fondly" as anything else.

  2. L'Esprit de l'Escalier said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    The postposition for emphasis, that threw Jeff Carney, of "fondly" is probably what motivated setting the relative clause off with commas. To say, without the commas,

    we will look back on these times that seemed so bad fondly, for we had each other

    would be to risk confusing most of us.

    In canonical order we would have

    we will look back fondly on these times that seemed so bad, for we had each other

    which I for one would punctuate as an an ordinary integrated relative.

  3. Mike Koplow said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    It's not the "that" after the comma that seems weird; it's the comma before the "that."

  4. John Lawler said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    It is a great example.

    As for the punctuation, I forget what the Chicago Manual, or even the LSA stylesheet, says about punctuation of relative clauses in cartoon panels with multiple balloons. They may have to add a whole new chapter.

  5. Jeff Carney said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

    I'm having a hard time understanding how a relative clause can be restrictive after the referent has been fixed by "these." The commas seem mandatory.

  6. Richard Hershberger said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    I wonder if the placement of the relative "that" as the first word in the balloon influenced the choice of it over "which," if only in the weak sense of making the non-standard (if such it is) construction less apparent.

  7. L'Esprit de l'Escalier said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

    @Jeff Carney:

    I googled "these times that seem" (with the quotation marks) and got back

    * In these times that seem to be founded on great fear …
    * In these times that seem so unreal …
    * In these times that seem so fractured …
    * In these times that seem so short on classical music …
    * In these times that seem to be pointing toward many events in Revelations coming to fruition …

  8. L'Esprit de l'Escalier said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

    Or to sum up, these commas that seem mandatory to you don't seem so to me.

  9. JT said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

    Firstly, I don't understand most of what is being said here. X3 I wrote that comic though, so I can at least explain why I punctuate the way I do and why I choose the words I choose.

    I write dialog so that it sounds like spoken language if read aloud. The commas are there so you know when the character pauses to emphasize words, or what have you. It doesn't always follow the rules.

    The delivery of that section should sound a little Shatneresque. It's meant to seem like he's purposely overacting. I don't know if that helps the disscussion, or whatever, but there you are.

    [(myl) I'm a regular reader of your comic, which I enjoy a lot. The dialog is a big part of the appeal. I certainly got the "purposely overacting" idea in that panel; and I was sincere rather than ironic in calling the wording, the layout, and the punctuation a "nice example". If you want to know what it's a nice example of, you could follow the link, where there's a reasonably accessible explanation — but you won't hurt my feelings if you dont.]

  10. Jeff Carney said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

    @L'Esprit de l'Escalier

    I defer. And it's not just that group of words, either, which was my first thought.

    Please don't mistake me for a prescriptivist. I've always said that the grammar we use and the grammar that makes "logical" sense are often at odds, and I'm happy to let usage triumph over logic.

    I'm a writer, so what I really meant had nothing to do with "right and wrong." More like, "these are the 'rules' as I would apply them when preparing an MS for print."

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

    The mistress of nonrestrictive or supplementary that is British journalist Louise Gray. See this a.u.e. thread, especially post 10.

    I was told in that thread that nonrestrictive "that" is now normal in British English.

  12. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 22, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

    I thought "the British journalist"; I just didn't type it. Anarthrosity strikes!

  13. Sarah Glover said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 1:45 am

    As a British English speaker, I found the wording perfectly natural – the use of 'which' would have sounded stilted in this context. As for the punctuation, the writer's explanation fitted exactly with my interpretation of it.

  14. Tom Saylor said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 4:41 am

    I was struck by the intrusive and misleading use of 'each' in the central bubble. I doubt that the speaker means that each of three people will go three separate ways.

  15. Stephen Downes said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 6:14 am

    With respect to your next story, "No comment at The Daily Mail", on which you have ironically closed comments, you write, "The Daily Mail clearly has insufficient respect for the First Amendment, which as we all know permits everyone online to say anything anywhere they please. The cowardly editors should be ashamed of themselves."

    I would point out that the Daily Mail, as British newspaper, need not respect in any way the First Amendment, which is an American law, and American hegemony has not (yet) extended world wide. The law the paper respects is British law, and that law may well apply in this case.

  16. Phil Jennings said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 7:15 am

    Having never encountered the word "anarthrosity" until this morning, nor the dictionary-endorsed "anarthrousness" until a minute later, I find myself ardently in favor of the Friedman variant.

    It is spoiled now, but for a moment there was just a single hit on "anarthrosity" in all Googledom.

  17. Ellen K. said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 9:18 am

    @Stephen Downes

    Two brief notes. First, that post and this were written by two different people. Second, one should engage one's sense of humor when reading posts by Geoffrey K. Pullum, author of the post to which you refer. Since this is off topic, I'll leave it at that.

  18. Ken Brown said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    Another Brit who genuinely doesn't understand the problem. Are there English speakers who wouldn't approve of using the word "that" in this way? And if so who and why? It feels more natural than "which".

    I've no problem with "each" either. Why can't each of three, or thirty-three, people go their separate way?

    I did stumble a little reading over the sentence but that's because of the way "fondly" sneaks up on you in the third balloon. I doubt if it would have been a problem if written out in normal text. And as JT says, when read aloud (or sub-vocalised in my case as I'm at work) it makes sense, and sounds a little deliberately pompous. Which might partly be because "times that" inevitably brings to mind "these are the times that try men's souls" which and draws us into high-flown rhetoric land.

  19. Alacritas said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 1:21 pm

    I agree with Ken, although I'm not British: non-restrictive "that" doesn't even get so much as a blink from me. In the comic, the post-positioning of "fondly" threw me for a sec, but of course that's a whole nother story.

    At any rate, for this Gen. American speaker, non-restrictive that sounds completely standard to me. People insisting that one use "which" here make me think of Robert Lowth, the 18th century prescriptivist. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Lowth#Work_on_English_Grammar)

  20. Jeff Carney said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

    Fowler is the go-to guy on which and that.

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 23, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

    @Phil Jennings: Two of us—that's a movement!

  22. Terry Collmann said,

    March 24, 2012 @ 4:55 am

    The part that threw me was "in those days", which to me is a phrase always referring to days in the past, unless otherwise qualified (eg "in those days to come").

  23. Stan Carey said,

    March 24, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

    Anne Enright's novel The Gathering has several instances of non-restrictive that, e.g.:

    Ada bringing us for red lemonade into a pub, that had a black roof with huge letters of white written across it.

    If Ada believed in anything she believed in this persistence, that other people might call the soul.

  24. the other Mark P said,

    March 24, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

    I was told in that thread that nonrestrictive "that" is now normal in British English.

    Not "now". It always has been that way.

    I'd never even heard of the rule until Microsoft introduced it to me via their "grammar checker". The only result being that the grammar checker was immediately turned off with me puzzled as to why anyone would care about "which" and "that".

  25. H Klang said,

    March 25, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

    @Jeff Carney

    I'm having a hard time understanding how a relative clause can be restrictive after the referent has been fixed by "these." The commas seem mandatory.

    These rules that you refer to have been fixed by who? :-)

  26. H Klang said,

    March 25, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

    @Stephen Downes

    With respect to your next story, "No comment at The Daily Mail", on which you have ironically closed comments, you write, "The Daily Mail clearly has insufficient respect for the First Amendment, which as we all know permits everyone online to say anything anywhere they please. The cowardly editors should be ashamed of themselves."

    I would point out that the Daily Mail, as British newspaper, need not respect in any way the First Amendment, which is an American law, and American hegemony has not (yet) extended world wide. The law the paper respects is British law, and that law may well apply in this case.

    Pullum seems pretty British to me and I'm willing to bet that he's deliberately putting freedom of speech ahead of national sovereignty,
    a novel notion to some.

    Incidentally, you should be aware that posting replies to Pullum's blog post anywhere on the web is a violation of the No Comments clause and can result in the arrest and extradition of your comments to the Home Site.

  27. Roger Lustig said,

    March 26, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

    Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit.

  28. Alex Segal said,

    March 29, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

    Some time ago I wrote an article that questioned the orthodoxy concerning non-restrictive "that". I have pasted the relevant sections of the article below.

    Stylistic considerations lead to variation even in the way that supplementary relative clauses are introduced. This may seem surprising, given that linguists and copy editors generally accept the injunction that "which" should introduce all such clauses with nonhuman head nouns. Pullum, who resists as much as anyone the imposition of what he sees as artificial regularities upon English, argued, in 2004, that the injunction was "overwhelmingly complied with by everyone," that exceptions being "fantastically rare," they escape copy editors' notice. Although Pullum refuses to say that the construction, which, he says, used to be more common, is ungrammatical — "I'm conservative enough to think that the language changes only slowly and we shouldn't be hurrying it up" — he says that "if teachers taught foreign students that they were simply not grammatical at all, and copy-editors refused to allow them to reach print, they would not be far wrong, and it would do no great harm." Bryan Garner's assertion that "British writers have utterly bollixed the distinction between restrictive and nonrestrictive relative pronouns" (807) may suggest that the British sometimes, even often, use "that" to introduce supplementary relative clauses. But he does not cite a single British writer who does this, thereby seeming to confirm Pullum's view of the matter.

    But things are more complex than they first appear. First, we should note that in poetry supplementary relative clauses introduced by "that" are not rare and seem unremarkable:

    Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears,
    That grief hath shaken into frost!

    Fair ship, that from the Italian shore
    Sailest the placid ocean-plains
    With my lost Arthur's loved remains,
    Spread thy full wings, and waft him o'er.
    (Tennyson, "In Memoriam")

    Could I weed
    Thy soul of care, by heavens, I would offer
    All the bright riches of my crystal coffer
    To Amphitrite; all my clear-eyed fish,
    Golden, or rainbow-sided, or purplish,
    Vermilion-tail'd, or finn'd with silvery gauze;
    Yea, or my veined pebble-floor, that draws
    A virgin light to the deep
    (Keats, "Endymion")

    Second, Pullum's linking the rarity of supplementary relatives introduced by "that" to their eluding copy editors' notice is a little odd. For rarity (consider "you is" where "you are" would usually appear) is sometimes taken as a criterion of ungrammatical expression — which is precisely what copy editors do notice.

    Third, although rare, supplementary relative clauses introduced by "that" seem to me — at least sometimes — to be quite acceptable, and this seems to have little to do with their tapping into the past of the language. Consider the following examples:

    Ada would have worn her navy Crimplene with white piping, that came out for all occasions, with a matching navy bolero jacket and one of those hats that look like a bubble of felt, punched in on one side. (Anne Enright, "The Gathering")

    … as a friend of both Gordon and Marcia, I spent a great deal of time with each of them, separately, trying to get them to laugh it off, too — with him at his club, where he sat drinking Scotch and smoking too much, and with her in their apartment, that seemed so large and lonely without Gordon and his restless moving around and his quick laughter. (James Thurber, "The Breaking up of the Winships")

    Then they moved across, through the hall, to the other front room, that was a little smaller than the first. (D. H. Lawrence, "Women in Love")

    As she stood bearing herself pensively, the rapt look on her face, that seemed spiritual, like the angels, but which came from torture, gave her a certain poignancy that tore his heart with pity. (D. H. Lawrence, "Women in Love")

    "This dirty little world, that I hate, is getting you." (Christina Stead, "The Beauties and Furies")

    The 2GB day, that begins with the indestructible Alan Jones hectoring his listeners from dawn, reaches Smith at 1pm. (David Marr, "The Henson Case")

    Moreover, these sentences are, I believe, well expressed — albeit, with the possible exception of the Thurber sentence, they do not exemplify polished style. (I think that a copy editor who refused to allow even one of them into print would do harm.) It is no accident that most are from works of creative writing, in which supplementary clauses introduced by "that" are less rare. But the prose in the literary examples does not depart radically from that used in nonliterary contexts, and one of the examples is nonliterary. Their effectiveness generally has to do with pace. Evoking movement or restlessness, the Thurber sentence, the first Lawrence sentence, and the Marr sentence lend themselves to being read quickly — and "that" lends itself to quick utterance better than does "which". Perhaps the less studied the prose — or the less it creates an effect of studiedness — the greater the likelihood of supplementary relatives introduced by "that"; possibly this is what is most crucial in the Thurber sentence. And because "that" is uttered more lightly than "which", it fits a supplementary relative clause as delicate as the one in the second Lawrence sentence.

  29. Stan Carey said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    I saw another example recently, in Robert Arthur's short story Obstinate Uncle Otis:

    Maybe he thought he c'd ignore that lightning, like he ignores Willoughby's barn across the road, or Marble Hill, that his cousin Seth lawed away from him so that now he won't admit there is any such hill.

  30. That elusive non-restrictive ‘that’ « Sentence first said,

    April 3, 2012 @ 8:32 am

    […] recent post on Language Log has an example from a comic strip, while Alex Segal, in a comment, shares several examples of […]

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