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Dear All,

When I write sometime like:

[a noun] with [a noun] that [a modifier clause]

e.g.

"A molecule with a distinct shape that corresponds to the special function ...."

It is not clear whether the modifier clause "that corresponds to the special function" refers to the molecule or the shape. So, I rewrite it with commas:

"A molecule, with a distinct shape, that corresponds to the special function ...."

to make it clear that the modifier clause refers to the molecule.

Is the use of commas okay in this case? Or should I rephrase the sentence somehow? Please kindly suggest me.

Thank you very much.

Best regards,

Zeyar Aung

Graduate Student, Natl. Uni. Singapore
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Hello Zeyaraun

I don't think the insertion of commas is a good way. "A molecule with a distinct shape" as a whole is a complex noun phrase to mean a specific molecule. If you change it into "a molecule, with a distinct shape, ", the meaning would differ from that of the original phrase (To me "with a distinct shape" appears to be something like an adverbial").

It is true that we sometimes find it a bit difficult to identify the antecedent of a relative pronoun when the antecedent is a complex phrase containing multiple nouns. I think there is no good way to avoid such ambiguity. And I believe this sort of ambiguity can occur no matter whether the relative clause is restrictive or non-restrictive.

paco
Comments  
This concerns defining and non-defining relative clauses:

A molecule with a distinct shape that corresponds to the special function .... (= molecule corresponds)

A molecule with a distinct shape, which corresponds to the special function .... (= shape corresponds)
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 paco2004's reply was promoted to an answer.
Dear Paco,

Thank you very much for your explanation.

Best regards,

Zeyar