Grammar Lessons: Relative Clauses

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Relative Clauses


We use defining relative clauses to give essential information about someone or something, information that we need in order to understand what or who is being referred to.

Relative Pronouns

Relative clauses are clauses starting with the relative pronouns who, that, which, whose, where, when.

whopeople and sometimes pet animals
Whichanimals and things
Thatpeople, animals and things; informal
WhosePossesive meaning for people and animals 
Whompeople in formal styles or in writing

With defining relative clauses we can use who or that to talk about people. There is no difference in meaning between these, though ‘who’ tends to be preferred in more formal use.

  • She’s the woman who cuts my hair.
  • She’s the woman that cuts my hair.

We can use that or which to talk about things. Again, there is no difference in meaning between these, though ‘which’ tends to be preferred in more formal use.

  • This is the dog that bit my brother.
  • This is the dog which bit my brother.

Relative Clauses Examples

These are some examples of relative clauses.

  • Do you know the girl who  threw the Halloween party?
  • Can I have the pencil that I bought you  yesterday?
  • A notebook is a computer which is small.
  •  want to live in a place where there are beaches nearby.
  • Yesterday was a day when everything went wrong!
  • It’s my brother who lives in Norway
  • The weather that we had this summer was beautiful.
  • Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
  • This is the house which Jack built.
  • Marie Curie is the woman that discovered radium.

Types of Relative Clauses

Relative clauses add extra information to a sentence by defining a noun. They are usually divided into two types – defining relative clauses and non-defining relative clauses.

Defining Relative Clause

A defining relative clause usually comes immediately after the noun it describes.

We usually use a relative pronoun (e.g. who, that, which, whose and whom) to introduce a defining relative clause

  1. They’re the people who want to buy our house.
  2. Here are some cells which have been affected.
  3. They should give the money to somebody who they think needs the treatment most.
  4. The woman who visited me in the hospital was very kind.
  5. The umbrella that I bought last week is already broken.
  6. The man who stole my backpack has been arrested.
  7. Protestors who smash windows will be arrested.
  8. The man who sold me the house has left the city.
  9. The film that we saw last week was awful.
  10. Children who hate chocolate are uncommon.
  11. They live in a house whose roof is full of holes.
  12. An elephant is an animal that lives in hot countries.
  13. Let’s go to a country where the sun always shines.

Non-Defining Relative Clauses

non-defining or non-essential clause gives us more information about the person or thing we are talking about.

If a non-defining relative clause is removed from a sentence, we lose some detail, but the overall meaning of the sentence remains the same. 


These are some examples of non-defining relative clauses

  1. My mother, who is 86, lives in Paris.
  2. Clare, who I work with, is doing the London marathon this year
  3. Alice, who works in  London , will be starting a teaching course in the autumn
  4. My grandfather, who is 87, goes swimming every day.
  5. The film, which stars Tom Carter, is released on Friday.
  6. Elephants that love mice are very unusual
  7. Mrs. Jackson, who is very intelligent, lives on the corner
  8. Protestors, who are mostly aged under 30, want to express an opinion.
  9. The theater, which is beautiful, was designed by Tom Jon.

Quizzes and Worksheets

These are some quizzes and worksheets to help you master the topic

  1. Relative Clauses Worksheet
  2. Test on Relative Clauses
  3. Relative pronouns – who, which, whose – Exercise
  4. Oxford University Press Quiz
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