In general it is not of crucial importance to see the difference between a restrictive and a nonrestrictive relative clause. However sometimes it is important. Only the nonerestrictive relative clause is separated, like in English, by a comma and there are differences in the relative pronouns to be used.
However from a philosophical perspective the difference is interesting because the meaning of a sentence can change dramatically depending on whether the relative clause is interpreted as a restrictive relative clause or a nonrestrictive relative clause. Let's have a look at this sentence.
The men who smoke to much will suffer from cancer.
The sentence can be interpreted in two completely different ways.
1) The men, who always smoke too much, will suffer from cancer.
2) Those men who smoke too much will suffer from cancer.
In case 1) smoking too much is a characteristic of all men and therefore all of them will suffer from cancer. The nonrestrictive relative clause gives some extra information, but smoking is an inherent characteristic of men. In case 2) we have a specification. Not all the men smoke too much, but those who do it, will suffer from cancer. There is a restriction and therefore 2) is a restrictive relative clause.
There is another possibility to explain the difference. A nonrestrictive relative clause doesn't provide any essential information, we can leave it out without changing radically the meaning of the sentence. A resctrictive relative clause provide an essential information and leaving it out changes the meaning of the sentence radically, normally we get nonsense.
Apples that were genetically manipulated can't be sold in Europe.
If we leave out the relative claus, "that were genetically manipulated", we get "Apples can't be sold in Europe" what is obviously nonsense. Therefore the relative clause is restrictive in this case.
The opposite is true for this sentence.
Birds, who normally can fly, find their food on the ground.
In this case the relative clause just gives some extra information about birds, describes an inherent characteristic of birds valid for all birds. There is no restriction. Almost all birds can fly. We can leave the relative clause, "who normally can fly", out. Without the relative clause we get "Birds find their food on the ground" what makes sense and the meaning of the sentence is not altered. Therefore it is a nonrestrictive relative clause.
This difference is made in all roman languages, however not in all languages, german for instance doesn't make this distinction, and therefore it is worth to think about it for 5 minute.
Decide in the following sentences whether the relative clause is resctrive or non restrictive.
Hint: The restrictive relative clause is called restrictive relative clause because it restricts the group. Not all elements of the group have the characteristic described in the relative clause, but only some.
Check in the following sentences if the relative clause can be left out without changing radically the meaning of the main clause. If this is the case, it is a restrictive relative clause, otherwise it is a nonrestrictive relative clause. For didactical reasons the nonrestrictive relative clauses are not separated by commas.
|sentences||nonrestrictive RS||restrictive RS||pronouciation|
|Os alunos que estudaram obtiveram boas classificações.|
|The students who have studied got good marks.|
|Os benfiquistas, que se mostravam entusiasmados, saíram frustrados do estádio.|
|The supporters of Benefica Lissabon who were so enthusiastic left the stadium frustrated.|
|O presidente, que nasceu na Madeira, ganhou novamente as eleições.|
|The president who was born in Madeira was once again the winner of the elections.|
|As modelos que foram vestidas por Ana Salazar são reconhecidas mundialmente.|
|The models who wear clothing of Ana Salazar are well known all over the world.|
|Os alunos que tiverem boa nota receberão uma bolsa.|
|The students who got good marks will get a grant.|
|O João, que é o melhor aluno da turma, recebeu uma bolsa.|
|João who was the best student of the class got a grant.|
|O senhor com quem falei ao telefone é muito simpático.|
|The man I talked to by phone is a very nice person.|
|O livro de cujo autor me falaste é muito polémico.|
|The book of the author you talked me is very polemic.|
|A menina que é muito estudiosa passou de ano.|
|The girl who was very diligent was moved to the next class.|
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