RELATIVE CLAUSES IN DETAIL

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This post will help you understand what a relative clause is, how to form it, and what it does in a sentence.

What is a relative clause in English?

A relative clause is a dependent clause that identifies a noun or pronoun and gives information about it. It functions as an adjective. It starts with the following relative pronouns: who, whom, which, that, and whose.

Examples:

  1. The man who helped me in my tough times lives in a village.
  2. Nobody wants to work with the boy whom you brought to the office last month.
  3. The movie that we watched yesterday was very inspirational.
  4. We love going to London, which is my favorite city.
  5. The boy whose parents are waiting outside is responsible for the thievery that took place yesterday.

Notice that the relative clauses (italicized) are modifying the noun sitting before them. They are functioning as an adjective. Let’s master how to form relative clauses with all these relative pronouns.

Relative clause in English
Relative clause in English

WHO

  • It is used to identify a person.
  • The person that it refers to works as the subject of the relative clause.
  • It can give essential or nonessential information about the noun it modifies.

Examples:

  • I am looking for a person who can help me with coding.
  • The candidates who came for the interview were extremely talented.
  • The students who are sitting in the first row can leave the room for their practice.
  • To be honest, the reason why you are alive is the woman who lives next to your flat.
  • Jon, who is a famous comedian, is my school friend.

NOTE: the pronoun who, in modern English, is used to refer to the object of the verb of the preposition too.

  • The girl who he hired last week is amazing at technology.
  • We are talking about the teacher who students are not scared of.

WHOM

  • It is used to identify a person.
  • It refers to the object of the relative clause.
  • It can give essential or nonessential information about the noun it modifies.

Examples:

  • I don’t want to talk about the girl whom I am dating.
  • The man whom I am talking about has a lot of experience in this domain.
  • Jon Jones, whom I picked to win the fight, has had more than 30 professional fights.

Notice ‘whom’ is referring to the object of the relative clause. It can be an object of a verb or a preposition. Also, note that it is hardly used in modern English; it is replaced with the pronoun ‘who’.

WHICH

  • It is used to identify a thing.
  • It can function as both the subject of the relative clause and its object.
  • It gives only nonessential information about the noun it modifies.

Examples:

  • We live in Delhi, which is considered one of the most polluted cities in India.
  • My brother took my only leather shoes, which I bought from a shop in China.
  • His gold car, which is extremely expensive, is a thing of beauty.
  • Last year, I took my parents to Haridwar, which is famous for a lot of temples.

THAT

  • It is used to identify both a person and a thing.
  • It can function as both the subject of the relative clause and its object.
  • It gives only essential information about the noun it modifies.

Examples:

  • The bag that I gifted you on your last birthday is more expensive than my phone.
  • Do you still have the book that you found behind our school last year?
  • Do you know the girl that is sitting on my bike?
  • The man that came to drop the parcel in the morning had a gun in his right pocket.

WHOSE

  • It shows the possession of a person, thing, or animal.
  • It can give both essential and nonessential information about the noun it modifies.

Examples:

  • The girl whose father you abused last night is a boxer.
  • I have never seen a man whose biceps are as big as his.
  • Jon is someone whose opinions matter to all of us.
  • Students whose parents are waiting in room no 12 come with me.
  • Rahul, whose father is an IPS officer, has gifted me a beautiful car.

Relative clauses starting with WHY, WHEN, WHERE, and HOW

The words (why, where, when, and how) are also considered relative pronouns. We form relative clauses using these words too.

WHY

The word ‘why’ in a relative clause comes after the noun ‘reason’ and modifies it.

  • The reason why we are here is not hidden from you.
  • I don’t know the reason why he left such a good job.

WHEN

When in a relative clause comes after the time words (time, month, day) and modifies it: refers to a time.

  • That was the day when joined this organization.
  • The day when I passed out in the playground was hot.

WHERE

Where in a relative clause comes after the word ‘place’ and modifies it by making it specific.

  • Do you know a place where we can hang out right now?
  • I own a house where you can live with your family.

HOW

How in a relative clause comes after the word ‘way’ and makes it specific.

  • The way how you handled the situation was good.
  • I don’t like the way how you talk to your parents.

We generally leave the pronoun ‘how’ when we describe the word ‘manner’.

  • The way you handled the situation was good.
  • I don’t like the way you talk to your parents.

Types of relative clauses

There are two types of relative clauses:

  • Restrictive relative clause
  • Nonrestrictive relative clause

Restrictive relative clause

A restrictive relative clause is an adjective clause that starts with a relative pronoun and gives essential or restrictive information about a noun it modifies. The information it gives is essential to identify the noun it refers to.

Relative pronouns used in restrictive relative clauses: who, whom, that, whose

Have you seen the ball that I was playing with a couple of minutes back?

Here, the relative clause (italicized) is helping us identify the noun ‘ball’. It tells us which ball the speaker is referring to. Without it, we wouldn’t know which ball the speaker is talking about.

The boy who was waiting outside my house in the morning is homeless.

Without the relative clause, we wouldn’t know which boy the speaker is referring to. It’s essential to the sentence as it’s helping us identify the noun ‘boy’.

Do you want the book that I showed you in the class?

Here, the relative clause is helping us identify the noun ‘book’, telling us which book the speaker is referring to.

The boy whose school bag was lost yesterday in the playground is asked to go to the principal’s room right now.

The relative clause, here, is referring to the possession of a noun (boy) and helps us identify him distinctly. The information helps us identify which boy the speaker is referring to.

More examples:

  • I don’t want to see the girl who you made me meet last night.
  • Students who are sitting at the last bench are next to present the presentation.
  • The story that he told you isn’t true.
  • You need to buy a laptop that can support this software.
  • He is the man who killed your uncle.
  • People whose kids are inside the building are requested to come back in an hour.

Nonrestrictive relative clause

A nonrestrictive relative clause is an adjective clause that starts with relative pronouns (who, which, whom, whose) and gives nonessential information about the noun it refers to and modifies. Since the information it provides is nonessential, it is offset using commas.

Examples:

Darren Till, who is a UFC fighter, has come to India to learn meditation.

Darren Till is a specific name of a person. Whatever information you give about him is going to be extra. It is a proper name; it does not need any modification to be identified. Since it’s giving extra information about the noun Darren Till, it is offset using commas.

I am planning to move to London, which is my favorite city.

London is a proper name of a city. It does not need any modification to be identified. Since the noun is already identified, the relative clause is offset using commas.

His father, whose singing skills are amazing, is a fighter pilot.

Here, the relative clause is referring to the possession of the noun phrase ‘his father’. Since we know he has only one father, the relative clause is nonessential to the sentence.

Examples:

  1. Did you talk to Riya, who is the class monitor here?
  2. Mark, who claims to have seen a ghost, is the guy who runs the test.
  3. His communication skills, which I believe is highly underused, can get him a good job.
  4. India, which has always been a place for seekers, has one of the best defense systems.
Relative pronouns that refer to a person =who, whom, that, whose
Relative pronouns that refer to a thing =that, which, whose
Relative pronouns that refer to both a person and a thing =that, whose
Relative pronouns that can give only essential information =that
Relative pronouns that can give only nonessential information =which
Relative pronouns that can give both essential and nonessential informationwho, whom, whose

POINTS TO NOTE

A) When the relative pronoun works as the object of a relative clause, it can be omitted.

The man that I am talking about has nothing to do with this case.
Omitted: The man I am talking about has nothing to do with this case.

No one knows the guy who you hired the other day.
Omitted: No one knows the guy you hired the other day.

The car that I want to buy is way too expensive.
Omitted: The car I want to buy is way too expensive.

B) THAT as a relative pronoun can refer to both people and things.

People

  • Look at the man that is walking on the rope.
  • The cop that stopped me at the airport is known for misbehaving with people.

Things

  • Everyone loved the bottle that you sent us last week.
  • We need to buy a house that is a big house for us to move in.

We, now, know everything about relative clauses. Do share your feedback and doubts in the comment section and share the post with others to help them.

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