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Relative Pronouns and Relative Clauses.

§ I. A comma is put before a relative clause, when it is explanatory of the antecedent, or presents an additional thought.

§ II. But the point is omitted before a relative which restricts the general notion of the antecedent to a particular sense.


1. 1. Behold the emblem of thy state in flowers, which bloom and die. 2. Study nature, whose laws and phenomena are all deeply interesting. 3. Channing has set forth great and universal truths, that cannot perish. 4. These were small states, in which every man felt himself to be important. 5. The father of history was Herodotus, from whom we have an account of the Persian war.

II. 1. Every teacher must love a boy who is attentive and docile. 2. Happy are the people whose history is the most wearisome to read. 3. Urbanity often lends a grace to actions that are of themselves ungracious. 4. Some men engage in labors in which they afterwards take no delight. 5. It is barbarous to injure those from whom we have received a kindness.


a. By comparing any of the examples in the first class with its corresponding one or any other in the second, it will at once be seen that they are essentially different as to the senses intended to be conveyed. In the former class, the clause at the beginning of the sentence, which contains the antecedent, is of a general character: that at the end — the relative clause - presents something additional, or explanatory of what has been said. In the latter class, the antecedent clause lays down a proposition which is restrained or limited in its sense by the relative.

b. If a relative clause which is explanatory of the antecedent be placed between the extremities of a sentence, a comma is required both after the antecedent word or phrase, and before that verb of which it is the nominative; as, “ Slaves and savages, who receive no education, are proverbially indolent.” — See p. 64.

c. But, if the nominative is accompanied by a limiting relative clause, - or, to speak more accurately, if the subject is composed of an antecedent and a relative clause, - both points should be omitted; as, “The man who is faithfully attached to religion may be relied on with confidence.” For, were a comma placed after either “man” or “religion,” or after words corresponding to these in similar sentences, a separation would be made between parts, which, from their restrictive character, are obviously inseparable. - See p. 51, d, e.

d. When, however, the antecedent consists of nouns or phrases between which commas are required, a comma should also be inserted before the relative clause, though restrictive; as, “ There are many dreams, fictions, or theories, which men substitute for truth.” Were the comma after “theories" omitted, the connection between “ which” and the preceding noun would seem to be closer than that existing between the relative pronoun and the other particulars, to which it has an equal relation; and such an omission would, in many instances, tend to hinder a perception of the sense.

e. A comma may also be put before the relative pronoun, even when restrictive, if it is immediately followed by a word or an expression enclosed by commas, and especially if the antecedent is qualified by an adjective; as, “ It was only a few discerning friends, who, in the native vigor of his powers, perceived the dawn of Robertson's future eminence.” The reasons offered for this mode of punctuating are, that the adjective has some effect to loosen the restraining power of the relative over the antecedent; and that the omission of the comma between the two portions of such a sentence — between “friends” and “who” in the present example — would draw the pronoun more closely to the clause which precedes it, than to that of which it forms a part.

f. By some writers and printers, a comma is always put before the relative, though used restrictively, if separated by several words from its grammatical antecedent; as, “ It is power of thought and utterance, which immortalizes the products of genius." — " He preaches sublimely, who lives a righteous and pious life.” But we have little hesitation in saying, that the punctuation is in both examples erroneous. In the former, the antecedent "power" is accompanied with the inseparable modifying phrase, “ of thought and utterance;” the sense being, not that power, but that the power of thought and utterance, immortalizes the products of genius. In the latter example, it will be seen that the proper construction is, “ He who lives a righteous and pious life preaches sublimely;" and that, in this collocation of the words, the comma would be correctly left out between the antecedent and the relative. If, therefore, a separation be made in the construction between words which are closely united in sense, as in the instances given, that separation, instead of being increased by the introduction of a point, should be made as little as possible by omitting it.

g. To the preceding remark the only exception is when the relative might improperly be read so as to refer to a proximate term; as, “ Creeds too often carry, in their ruins, the seeds of that faith in the divine and eternal, without which our nobler nature, starves and perishes.”

h. To prevent ambiguity, a comma is sometimes put before the words, of which, of whom, even when used restrictively, to distinguish the preposition from that which connects two nouns, one of which governs the other; as, “ Compassion is an emotion, of which you should never be ashamed.” – “No thought can be just, of which good sense is not the groundwork." — “No thought, of which good sense is not the groundwork, can be just.” The insertion of the point will distinguish phrases of this kind from such as occur in the following sentences: “ Compassion is an emotion of grief for the sufferings of others.” -“ The actions of princes are like those great rivers, the courses of which every one beholds, but whose springs have been seen by few.” It may be remarked too, that, when the relative pronoun does not immediately follow the clause containing the antecedent, the comma omitted before the relative is inserted between the two portions of the sentence, as after the word." rivers" in the last example.

¿. The principles stated in both divisions of the rule are appli cable to sentences in which an adverb is put for a relative pronoun; as, “ The philosophers took refuge in Persia, where [in which country] they soon became dispersed.” — “ Mark the majestic simplicity of those laws whereby [by which] the operations of the universe are conducted.”

j. Sentences in which the relative pronoun may be supplied are subject to the same rules as those in which it is expressed; as, “ Genius is not a single faculty of the mind, distinct from all the rest.” — “Genius is not a faculty of the mind separate from all the rest.” In both forms of the example, the relative pronoun with the verb — which is - is understood after the word “mind;" but in the former the comma is used, because the first clause makes perfect sense of itself, and the secon 1 is explanatory. In

the latter form, the comma is omitted, for the reason that both clauses are so blended as to be inseparable in sense; the first being restrained or limited in its meaning by the second. The following sentence contains past participles, used in both an explanatory and a restrictive sense, and punctuated accordingly: “Poets are by no means wingless angels, fed with ambrosia plucked from Olympus, or manna rained down from heaven.”

k. When a present participle is put instead of a relative and a verb, the insertion or omission of the comma will also depend on the principle just stated; as, “ The path of mere power is that of the cannon-ball, destroying ( which destroys) every thing in its course.” — “ There are moral principles slumbering in the souls of the most depraved.”

l. Sometimes, however, a restrictive clause of the kind mentioned in the two foregoing remarks should be preceded by a comma, when, its antecedent being removed at some distance from the relative pronoun, the latter is in danger of being connected too closely with a nearer noun; as, “ Commercial nations have an apathy to amusement, distinct from mere gravity of disposition.” A comma may also be inserted before and after a clause beginning with an adjective or a past participle, if introduced between the extremities of a sentence, in order to show the alliance of the nominative with its verb, or of one noun with another; as, “A man, distinguished for his virtues and attaiuments, is commonly respected.”

m. When the ellipsis may be supplied with the adverb when, involving in its signification a nominative or a relative and a verb, a comma should be inserted before two adjectives or participles, restrictive or unrestrictive, or an adjective or participle with words depending on it; as, “ Man, ignorant and uncivilized, is a ferocious savage.” — “The death of Socrates, philosophizing with his friends, is the most pleasant that could be desired.”

n. When only the relative pronoun is understood, the antecedent should be left unpointed; as, " The laws we reverence are our brave fathers' legacy;" that is, the laws which we reverence.

0. Such as, when equivalent to a demonstrative and a relative pronoun, is subject to the second division of the rule; as, “ There is no such partition in the spiritual world as you see in the material;" that is, there is not that partition which you see.

p. A semicolon is sometimes used before a relative pronoun, particularly when it refers to an antecedent in a remote clause. But this mode of punctuating will be best exhibited hereafter.


Slate the principles in the seventh Rule (p.57), and show how they may be

applied to the sentences that follow :

Avoid rudeness of manners, which must hurt the feelings of others.
Every good man must love the country in which he was born.
The child was much attached to Jane, who loved him dearly.
Those who are wealthy have great influence over others.
Virtue is that to which the man himself contributes.
What is more wonderful than the human eye, that sees all around?
The subject should be held up in every light of which it is capable.
Death is the season which brings our affections to the test.
Turn not back from the good path on which you have entered.
Cherish true patriotism, which has its root in benevolence.
Ambition is the germ from which all growth of nobleness proceeds.
Christianity is a religion whose origin is unquestionably divine.
He who reads in a proper spirit can scarcely read too much.
War is a tremendous evil, to which many have unhappily resorted.

Mention the reasons, given in the Remarks (pp. 57-60), for inserting or omitting

commas in such sentences as the following:

Satan, whom now transcendent glory raised above his fellows, spake
The eye, that sees all things, sees not itself.
Man, who is born of a woman, is of few days.
The credulity which has faith in goodness is a sign of goodness.
He that is slow to anger is better and nobler than the mighty.
Where is the philosopher, the man, who would thus live and die?
He questioned me of the battles, sieges, fortunes, that I have passed.
The large book, which I bought years ago, has not yet been read.
No faculty lives within us which the soul can spare.
Nothing is in vain that rouses the mind to thought and reflection.
There is a craving for enjoyment, which cannot be destroyed in man
William left the city of New York, where he was doing well.
Here comes his body, mourned by Mark Antony.
Adopt a plan of life founded on religion and virtue.
A great mind gazeth on the sun, glorying in its brightness.
Genius addresses the consciousness existing in all men.
Physical science, separate from morals, parts with its chief dignity.
Socrates was one of the greatest sages the world ever saw.
Such as are careless of themselves are seldom mindful of others.

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