When To Use & Not To Use Commas In Adjective Clauses – English Grammar Lesson

Michael Grammar Leave a Comment

A lot of students have a tough time knowing when to use commas in adjective clauses in English. It is a very confusing point to understand and remember…until now. This lesson, which I wrote today, will teach you the basic rules. The examples that I will show you should clear up any confusion that you may have about this English grammar point. Take a deep breath and check out today’s free English grammar lesson:

We use commas when the adjective clause modifies a proper noun (the name of a person or place, usually written with capital letters):

  • Jane, who works in my office, is married and lives in Brooklyn.
  • New York, which is popular with tourists, is the business capital of America.
  • My aunt Mary, who grew up in Queens, is a fantastic cook.

We also use commas when the adjective clause gives us extra information about the noun that comes before it. If you remove the adjective clause and the commas, the sentence still makes sense. As well, it is clear from the sentence which noun we are talking about:

  • Madison Park, which was built in 1847, was the original home of arm and torch of Statue of Liberty. We know which park, Madison Park. “which was built in 1847” gives us extra information about the park.
  • Jack’s sister Jenny, who works in a bank, is a talented ping pong player. We know who Jenny is – she is Jack’s sister. “who works in a bank” gives us extra information about Jenny.
  • The hotel on Madison Ave., which is painted pink, has a very nice café on the second floor. We know what hotel – the one on Madison Ave. “which is painted pink” gives us extra information about the hotel.

On the other hand, we don’t use commas when the adjective clause defines the noun that comes before it. If you remove the adjective clause it will not be clear from the sentence which noun we are talking about:

  • There are two old parks in midtown. One was built in 1830 and the other was built in 1847. The park which was built in 1847 was the original home of the arm and torch of Statue of Liberty. We need to know which park, and “which was built in 1847” defines the park. If you removed “which was built in 1847” you wouldn’t know what park was the original home of the arm and torch of Statue of Liberty.
  • Jack has three sisters. Jack’s sister who works in a bank is a talented ping-pong player. We need to know which of Jack’s sisters is a talented ping-pong player, and “who works in a bank” defines which of Jack’s sisters we are talking about.
  • There are a few nice hotels in this neighborhood. The hotel which is painted pink has a very nice café on the second floor. We need to know which hotel, among all of the hotels in this neighborhood has a café. It’s the one “which is painted pink.” If someone said, “The hotel has a very nice café on the second floor,” you would probably ask, “what hotel?

So use the commas when the adjective clause gives you extra information about the noun, and don’t use the commas when the adjective clause defines the noun, telling you which noun is being talked about.
If you know anyone who has trouble with this English language point, why not help them out! Just share this lesson with them. Thanks for studying today!

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