Relative Clauses 1

Relative clauses

Relative clauses give extra information about something or someone in the main clause.

A. Defining relative clauses:

Defining relative clauses contain information which is essential for our understanding of the whole sentence.

Ex: The man who normally comes to clean our widows is on holiday this month.

Ex: He’s got a computer program which translates texts from Spanish into English.

In each case, the relative clause identifies which person or thing is being talked about.

Features of defining relative clauses:

  • No commas are required either at the beginning or the end of the relative clause.
  • That can be used instead of  who for people and which for things, particularly in spoken English.
For people For things
Subject: who / that which / that
Object: who / that / whom which / that
Possessive: whose whose

  • The relative pronoun can be omitted if it is the object of the verb in the relative clause.

Ex: I’m enjoying the book (which/that) you lent me.

  • The relative pronoun cannot be omitted if it is the subject of the verb in the relative clause.

Ex: That’s the shop assistant who/that served me the last time I came here.

B. Non-defining relative clauses:

Non-defining relative clauses contain information which is not essential for our understanding of the sentence. We can identify which person or thing is being talked about without the information in the relative clause.

Ex: Their new house, which has five bedrooms and a games room, is much larger than their previous one.

Ex: At the party she spoke to Mr. Peterson, whose father owned the company she worked for.

Features of non- defining relative clauses:

  • Commas are required both at the beginning and the end of the relative clause (except when the end of the relative clause is also the end of the sentence).
  • That cannot be used in place of who or which.
For people For things
Subject: who which
Object: who / whom which
Possessive: whose whose

  • Relative pronoun cannot be omitted from non-defining relative clauses.

Ex: Her math teacher, who/whom everyone in the class adored, announced that he was leaving the school.

  • Non-defining relative clauses are more common in written English.
  • Which can be used in non-defining relative clauses to refer to a whole clause.

Ex: No one phoned him on his birthday, which made him feel rather depressed.

C. Relative clauses and prepositions:

1. Prepositions usually come at the end of defining/non-defining relative clauses.

Ex: The town I grew up in has changed a lot since I left.

  • In non-defining relative clauses the relative pronoun is never omitted.

Ex: Keith Rolf, who I used to work with, lives in Paris now.

2. In more formal English, preposition often come before the relative pronouns

  • whom for people and which for things (in “which” case the pronoun cannot be omitted).

Ex: We be visiting the room in which Turner painted some of his greatest works.

Ex: The head waiter to whom we addressed our complaint, was not particularly


D. Relative adverbs: where, when and why

Where, when and why can be used in relative clauses after nouns which refer to place (where), a time (when) or a reason (why).

  • Where has the meaning: in / at which


Ex: They’ve booked a week in that campsite where we stayed last year.


Ex: She’s in Southlands hospital, where you were born.

  • When has the meaning: on / in which


Ex: Do you remember that day when we went to Rhyl and it snowed?


Ex: I’m going on holiday in September, when most people are back at work.

  • Why has the meaning: for which


Ex: The reason why I’m phoning is to ask you for Tina’s address.



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One comment on “Relative Clauses

  1. Pingback: Advanced English Grammar for ESL – Reduced Relative Clauses

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