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Relative clauses

Whats a relative clause?

A relative clause is a subordinate clause
that gives information about a noun
(subject or object) in the main clause.

Why do we use relative

We use relative clauses to give additional information about
something without starting another sentence.
By combining sentences with a relative clause, your text becomes
more fluent and you can avoid repeating certain words.
For example:

A girl is waiting for the bus. Do you know the girl?


Do you know the girl who is waiting for the bus?

Now, you do it
Shes a writer. She won the Booker Prize last year.
Shes the writer who won the Booker Prize last year.
He wore a tie to the party. I gave him that tie.
He wore the tie that I gave him to the party.
Someones car was blocking my driveway. I asked this person to move
their car.
I asked the person whose car was blocking my driveway to move it.
The woman is Danish. He finally married her.
The woman whom he finally married is Danish.
She is very angry. Her anger is understandable.
She is very angry, which is understandable.

Choosing the right relative





for people

I told you about the woman who

lives next door.


for animals and things

Do you see the cat which is lying

on the roof?


referring to a whole sentence

He couldnt read, which surprised



object pronoun for people



possession for people, animals and things

I was invited by the professor

whom I met at the conference.
Do you know the boy whose
mother is a nurse?

subject or object pronoun for people, animals

I dont like the table that stands
and things in defining relative clauses (who or
in the kitchen.
which are also possible)

Or the right relative adverb:

A relative adverb can be used instead of a relative
pronoun plus preposition.
This often makes the sentence easier to understand.
This is the shop in which I bought my bike.
This is the shop where I bought my bike.






refers to a time expression

the day when we

met him



refers to a place

the place where we

met him



refers to a reason

the reason why we

met him

Who, Whose, Whom

We use who to refer to a person, when the person is the subject of the

The person who called at 3 am has no manners!

My brother, who loves football, will probably come to my game.

We use whose to show possession (for person, object or animal):

The man whose wallet I found was very grateful.

That table, whose legs are all wobbly, should be repaired.

My dog, whose fur is all wet, spent the afternoon outside in the rain.
We use whom when the person it refers to is the object of the verb:

The man for whom I am buying this shirt is my father.

The children whom I have taught over the years are all grown up now.

The people with whom I was sitting were very noisy.

However, it is hardly ever used in spoken English. Instead, who is
used with the preposition:
The people who I was sitting with were very noisy.

There are two types of

relative clauses
The defining clause
The non-defining clause

The defining clause

It is called a defining clause when the
information defines the noun. It is
necessary information to understand the
text. (Without it, the noun that it defines
would be unclear.)

The woman who drove you to school

seemed upset!
The book that you gave me was awesome.

The non-defining clause

It is called a non-defining clause when it provides unnecessary, but
interesting, added information. (without it, the sentence can still make

John, who is now 32 years old, has been married for 5 years.
This book, which was given to me by my mother, is a total bore!

***non-defining clauses are separated from the main clause by two commas:
John, who is now 32 years old, has been married for 5 years.
Or a comma and a period:
The weather is uncannily gorgeous, which is a bit worrying.
*** That can never be used as the relative pronoun in a non defining clause
Your new Ipad 3, that I bought you, was expensive.
Your new I pad 3, which I bought you, was very expensive.

Omitting the relative


If the pronoun is the object of the verb, it can be omitted.

The company that she works for is based in Toronto.

"That is an object pronoun

= The company she works for is based in Toronto.

That can be omitted

The company that employs her is based in Toronto.
That" is a subject pronoun.
The company employs her (the company is the subject). In
this case, it is not possible to omit "that". You need the
pronoun because it is the subject of the verb.