Why you’ll never starve at the beach

Posted on Feb 27, 2012 | 0 comments

It’s all due to a certain type of adjectival clause, or a clause that modifies a noun, such as “my tanning butter, which has sand in it,” or “the merman that got away.” (If this sounds like a dry topic, well, we are talking about the beach.)

Frequently, an adjectival clause begins with either that or which, and quite often, people use which simply because it sounds better. The choice actually depends upon whether the adjectival clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive.

A restrictive clause is needed to define the noun, while a nonrestrictive clause adds information that’s nice to know but not necessary. If you can delete the clause without changing the meaning of the sentence, then it’s nonrestrictive. Restrictive clauses begin with that. Nonrestrictive ones begin with which.

Look at these examples:

  • I lost the beach towel that my mother gave me.
  • I lost the beach towel, which my mother gave me.

In the first sentence, there’s more than one towel and the adjectival clause is needed to tell you which towel we’re talking about. In the second sentence, however, there’s only one towel and the clause merely adds some nice-to-know information. In other words, which is nice to know, but that is essential.

Naturally, there’s a rule about using commas with that and which.

  • A restrictive clause (beginning with that) requires no comma.
  • A nonrestrictive clause (beginning with which) is always set off by a comma or commas.

Now, about that beach. Why is it you can never starve at the beach? Because you can always eat the sand, which is there.