Monthly Archives: October 2015

Relative Clauses, Relatively Speaking

Relative clauses give us more information about nouns. For example, they might tell us about one in a group, or what kind of noun we are talking about. There are two kinds of relative clause: identifying and non-identifying.

Identifying relative clauses tell us which one we are talking about:

Glen is a piano player who wrote my favourite song. (Other piano players did not write my favourite song, and none of these players are named Glen.)

Do you have a dessert that two people could share? (Some desserts cannot be shared, but I am not interested in these desserts.)

Students who study every day get the highest scores on tests. (To get the highest scores on their tests, students should study every day.)

Non-identifying relative clauses just add extra information about the noun:

Solomon, who plays guitar, works in Victoria.

Many students study at the library, where you have to be quiet.

Non-identifying clauses are more formal, and are usually separated from the main clause by commas. Identifying clauses cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, but non-identifying clauses usually can be removed without changing the meaning.

Connotation and Denotation

When we learn a new word, we learn its meaning – the denotation. We also learn spelling and pronunciation, but we should also look at the context where we use the word. You see, there are words with the same denotation, like “examination” and “quiz,” but we would never say “I’m going to the doctor’s office for a quiz!” That’s because “quiz” has connotations of school and short duration, but “examination” has connotations of science, medicine, and detail.

The difference between a good user of English and a great user of English is often their mastery of connotations, which they use to help select the best word for each context.

How to choose? Good question.

  • The first item is our emotion. What is our attitude towards our topic? Angry, respectful, happy, sad, or something else?
  • The second is the formality. Are we speaking formally? Are we writing casually?
  • The last is the topic. Is there a clear context, like business, university, romance, or creativity?

If you’re choosing connotations for a school assignment, like a test, also be sure to check the grammar – singular/plural, word forms, and count/noncount may all be reasons to eliminate multiple choices that your teacher has given you!

Confusing Words: Late and Lately

“Late” is not the same as “lately.”

Late is the opposite of early. They are both adjectives, and must modify nouns.

  • “James will be late today. He will arrive after the meeting begins.”

Lately means recently, or close to now. Lately is an adverb.

  • “I’ve taken a lot of classes in English lately.”

Lately can also move around in the sentence, like other adverbs:

  • “Lately, I’ve taken a lot of English classes.”