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In

Leo Messi, who lives next door, is the greatest football/soccer player in the world.

is "who lives next door" an adjunct or a modifier?

My thinking goes like this. If I isolate the non-restrictive relative clause

who lives next door

my intuition tells me that there is no "head" to be modified, which makes this non-restrictive relative clause an adjunct.

However, if I assume that non-restrictive relative clauses have a "head" and that this "head" is external rather than internal (meaning that the head in my sentence is "Leo Messi"), then the non-restrictive relative clause is a modifier.

My assumption, therefore, is that modifiers are attached to a "head" (i.e. modifiers "modify" a "head").

How do linguists analyse non-restrictive relative clauses?

Thanks in advance.

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  • Non-restrictive relative clauses are 'supplements'. They are not modifiers, though they do have antecedents, or more precisely semantic 'anchors', which can be a clause or various kinds of phrase. In your example, the anchor is the NP "Leo Massi". Unlike restrictive relatives, they are not integrated into NP structure, but have the character of an appendage or, as in your example, an interpolation. As supplements, they are headless and do not form constituents. – BillJ May 30 '18 at 6:54
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I'll refer you to, first, @BillJ's comment above, which I agree with, then to McCawley's analysis in the The Syntactic Phenomena of English, which makes restrictive relative clauses modifiers of N' (N-bar) and non-restrictive relative clauses as modifiers of sentences. The syntactic relationship between a non-restrictive relative and the NP it goes with does not appear to have a counterpart in traditional grammar -- McCawley calls it an "adposit".

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