May 20, 2009

Language Tips: Adjective clauses/agreement in tenses & punctuation and adjective clauses

Posted in adjective clauses, agreement in tenses, punctuation and adjective caluses, restrictive/non-restrictive clauses, that/which at 11:03 pm by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Adjective clauses/agreement in tenses

John writes

Deb–the following sentence is one version of a construction that always puzzles me.

Can or should the sentence end after the word evaluation? Should it end with “will use”? Or should it be the way it is stated below? Assume that both studies are in the future.

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data as the IIPP evaluation uses.

This is a great question. And, of course, since we are talking about English grammar, the answers to the questions are, respectively, yes, yes, and yes. Let me explain. The phrase ‘as the IIPP evaluation uses’ is a dependent adjective clause. It’s a dependent (or subordinate) clause because it cannot stand on its own-it needs the rest of the sentence to make sense. It’s an adjective clause because it is modifying a noun, ‘data,’ and it is telling us which data will be used. And finally, it is a clause because it contains both a noun and a verb.

But wait , you say, I remember learning that adjective clauses have to begin with a relative pronoun (i.e., who, whose, whom which, that)? That’s true, and in this case ‘as’ is standing in for ‘that.’ And ‘that’ would probably be a better choice, here. (But that’s beside the point.)

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data that the IIPP evaluation uses.

It could also be written with the pronoun implied:

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data the IIPP evaluation uses.

So for the first question: Can or should the sentence end after the word evaluation? Since this is an adjective CLAUSE, it must have a noun and a verb, so the answer must be ‘no,’ right? Well, the answer to that is, unfortunately, no. While a clause needs a noun and a verb, the verb can be implied as it would be if we wrote:

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data as the IIPP evaluation.

So the answer to the first question is yes.

Now for the second question: Should it end with ‘will use’? We are assuming both studies take place in the future, and it is correct to have the verbs agree, so it would be fine to state the sentence as follows:

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data as the IIPP evaluation will use.

So the answer to the second question is yes.

And finally, the third question: Or should it be the way it is stated below?

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data as the IIPP evaluation uses.

Let’s see, verb tenses should agree, and ‘will use’ is in the future tense, and ‘uses’ is in the present tense, so that means the answer is ‘no.’ Eek, not really. We can also use the present tense form with an adverb or adverbial phrase to show future time (e.g., Dr. Conroy lectures on an intervention for obesity tomorrow at noon). In our example, the adverbial phrase is implied. If we stated it explicitly, the sentence would be something like this.

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data the IIPP evaluation uses when it is conducted.

In our original sentence, the adverbial phrase ‘when it is conducted,’ is implied, and it is correct to use ‘uses’ in the sentence.

The study of inspector effectiveness will use the same data as the IIPP evaluation uses.

So the answer to the third question is yes.

A lot of implying going around. We have an implied relative pronoun, an implied verb, and an implied adverbial phrase. Whew, what are the implications?

NOTE: While writing this tip, I googled ‘adjective clauses’ to make sure I covered everything and came across a website that had a very understandable and comprehensive explanation of adjective clauses. It was so good that I checked out the address (something I rarely do) and, lo and behold, the site was from Pitt, the Titusville campus to be precise. I recommend this as a good reference: <http://www.pitt.edu/~atteberr/comp/0150/grammar/advclauses.html>.

Tip 2: Punctuation and adjective clauses

While we are on the subject of adjective clauses, it is probably worth a moment to consider punctuation. The way you punctuate adjective clauses depends on whether the clauses are restrictive or non-restrictive.

Punctuate non-restrictive clauses with commas, but do not punctuate restrictive clauses. We talked about restrictive and non-restrictive clauses a while back when we talked about ‘which’ and ‘that,’ but the essence is that restrictive suggests essential and non-restrictive suggests non-essential. If the clause is essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence, it is restrictive and should not be punctuated. If the clause is not essential or necessary to understand the sentence, it is non-restrictive and should be punctuated.

The proposal that focused on ocular cell biology is going to be funded.

Here, the clause ‘that focused on ocular cell biology’ is essential for us to understand which proposal is going to be funded, so it is restrictive and should have no punctuation.

The manuscript, which had been submitted to several journals, was accepted at JAMA.

In this sentence, the phrase ‘which had been submitted to several journals’ is not essential for understanding the sentence, so it is non-restrictive and requires punctuation.

The garden that was overtaken by voles had to be replanted.

Here, ‘that was overtaken by voles’ tells us which garden needed to be replanted, and so it is restrictive and should have no punctuation.

The lettuce, which has shades of red and green, is delicious.

In this sentence, all of the lettuce is delicious, and the fact that it has shades of red and green is incidental, so the clause is non-restrictive and needs punctuation.

Note, however, if the sentence is written somewhat differently, the meaning changes.

The lettuce that has shades of red and green is delicious.

In this sentence, the restrictive clause is telling us the the red and green lettuce is the only lettuce that is delicious.

Please note that you use ‘that’ with a restrictive clause and ‘which’ with a non-restrictive clause.

And finally, and this is the real motivation for this tip, as simplicity and clarity is what we strive for in writing, when you identify a non-restrictive (i.e., non-essential) clause, consider omitting it all together!

The manuscript was accepted at JAMA.

The lettuce is delicious.

So there.

2 Comments »

  1. Rose Crnkovich said,

    Should the following sentence have commas to separate the clause:

    We will hold a luncheon to honor our friend and colleague Sheila who is retiring.

    • dlseltzer said,

      ‘Sheila’ should be surrounded by commas, but those are the only comments you need.


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