One thought on “Commas or no commas?

  1. There are two possibilities.

    1. WITH COMMAS
    The science fair, which lasted all day, ended with an awards ceremony.

    In this sentence, the commas tell us that “which lasted all day” is a NONRESTRICTIVE CLAUSE. We don’t need it to tell us which science fair the writer is talking about. There was only one.

    “Commas comment.” A nonrestrictive clause, set off by commas, merely “comments” on the science fair. It doesn’t identify the science fair.

    2. WITHOUT COMMAS:
    The science fair which lasted all day ended with an awards ceremony.

    The absence of commas means that “which lasted all day” is a RESTRICTIVE CLAUSE. There was more than one science fair going on, the science fairs had different lengths, and the writer is using the words “which lasted all day” to tell us which science fair he or she is talking about.

    NOTE: Most people these days would use the word "that" to signal a restrictive clause and "which" to signal a nonrestrictive clause:

    The science fair that lasted all day ended with an awards ceremony.
    The science fair that finished at noon did not end with an awards ceremony.
    The science fair, which lasted all day, ended with an awards ceremony.

    The science fair that lasted all day ended with an awards ceremony. RESTRICTIVE (there was more than one science fair going on)
    The science fair that finished at noon did not end with an awards ceremony. RESTRICTIVE (there was more than one science fair going on)
    The science fair, which lasted all day, ended with an awards ceremony. NONRESTRICTIVE (there was only one science fair)

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