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Relative clauses in English Grammar

using a relative clause

Defining relative clauses tell us which person or thing we are talking about.
This is the book (that) I borrowed yesterday. (Not any other book but that book - (that) may be omitted before a pronoun)

Non-defining clauses give extra unnecessary, but interesting, information about the person or thing we are talking about.

Non-defining clauses give more information without starting a new sentence.
  1. This is a man. I went to school with him. (2 sentences)
  2. This is the man who I went to school with. (1 sentence using a relative clause)

Relative Clause Table

Defining

Subject clause Relative Clause
Those people who came late yesterday.
The man (who is) called John.
A place where we won't be disturbed.
Everything (that) I know
The dog that bit my leg

Non-Defining

Subject clause Relative Clause
My teacher ,who also taught my sister, ...
This palace ,where the Queen once lived, ....
This book ,which won a Nobel prize, ...

Restrictive and non-restrictive

This book, which I found very useful, was written by Raymond Murphy.
In this sentence the relative clause is non defining, sometimes called nonrestrictive. This means that it's function is to add extra information, which usually describes, but does not further define the noun. Note: That relative clause can be totally omitted and the sentence still makes gramatical sense. Try removing everything between the commas and reading the sentence again. The wife is annoyed because her husband had lost money, and not because of the gambling. Another example of a non defining relativerestrivtive usage is

Reducing relative clauses from participle phrases to infinitive phrases

  1. Students who study at this school must be good at English. ----> Students studying at this school must be good at English. (reduced relative clause using p.phrase)
  2. She's the only scientist who has won 3 awards. -----> She's the only scientist to have won 3 awards. (reduced relative clause using to-inf)

Punctuation in English language relative clauses

We have to know whether a relative clause is defining or non-defining before we can use correct punctuation.

Punctuation examples

  1. Mrs. Jackson, who is very intelligent, lives on the corner.
  2. My teacher, who is a woman, is 90 years old.
  3. This bike, that I bought in India, has 7 wheels!

Rule

If the non-defining relative clause occurs in the middle of a sentence, a comma is put before the relative pronoun and at the end of the clause. If the non-defining relative clause occurs at the end of a sentence, a comma is put before the relative pronoun.

Rule

In defining relative clauses there are no commas.

Pronouns in relative clauses. English Grammar

Relative pronouns

Relative clauses often use relative pronouns such as: that, where, who (whom), whose, which But NOT WHAT!!

Rule: We cannot use ",WHAT" as the relative pronoun or a relative clause.

Omitting the relative pronoun

There are two different types of relative clause where we can leave out the relative pronoun.

When the relative pronoun is the object of the verb and not the subject of a relative clause.

Rule: In all relative clauses where the relative pronoun "who/that/which" is followed by a personal pronoun
the relative pronoun can be omitted (left out).

Relative pronouns that may be omitted because they would preceed a personal pronoun

  1. This is the book that I read yesterday. (This is the book I read yesterday.)
  2. This is the man who I spoke to earlier. (This is the man I spoke to earlier.)
  3. Do you know a place where I can relax in peace? (Don't omit where as the meaning is weakened)
  4. This a the man who I went to school with. (This is the man I went to school with)
  5. The person you need to talk to is on holiday.
  6. This is the best wine I've ever tasted.
  7. The book I bought yesterday is good.
  8. Have you found the keys you lost?

More about relative pronouns

Question: What happens to the meaning of these sentences if we take away or leave out the relative pronouns?
Answers:
  1. Pigs can fly. - (Changed meaning into statement. Pigs are generally able to fly)
  2. People live in Africa - (Changed meaning into statement. There are some people living in Africa)
  3. Things are made of chocolate. - (Changed meaning into statement.
  4. Places it hardly ever rains. - (No change in the meaning)
  5. Is there somebody, can explain this to me? (This has no clear meaning)
  6. Countries queen Victoria visited. (OR: Countries visited by Queen victoria.)

Rule: ALL relative pronouns used to define a subject must not be omitted (left out). Unless followed by a personal pronoun or proper noun.

Some Rules for Relative Clauses in English Grammar

Use that or which

Sometimes we must use THAT and sometimes we must use WHICH. In defining and non-defining we generally use who for people and which for things. In both types you can use WHOSE and WHERE. Here are two rules: One tells us when we can't use WHICH the other tells us when we can't use THAT

Use of 'of' after some words

After numbers and words like many, most, neither, and some, we use of before whom and which in non-defining relative clauses.

Examples:

  1. Many of those people, most of whom enjoyed their experience, spent at least a year abroad.
  2. Dozens of people had been invited, most of whom I knew.

The Rules listed

  1. 'Which' or 'that' In non defining clauses use ",which ..." with punctuation. Don't use ",THAT.."
    Although "which" is generally allowed in defining clauses use that after certain quantity words
    When using the relative pronoun to refer to the object, 'that' can be omitted.
  2. Defining clauses with 'which'
    'Which' is allowed for some defining clauses but if you always use 'that' in defining clauses you will be correct.
  3. With quantifiers you can't use 'which' because they form a phrase with 'that' and don't work well with 'which'. Always use ",THAT .." after these words

Examples:

  1. It was everything (that) he had ever wanted.
  2. They lost all the things (that) they ever had.

Vocabulary related to relative clauses in English Grammar

Which (To add information - pronoun)

Used to add extra information to a previous clause, in writing usually after a comma: That bar on Milton Street, which by the way is very nice, is owned by Trevor's brother. She says it's Charlotte's fault, which is rubbish, and that she blames her. Anyway, that evening, which I'll tell you more about later, I ended up staying at Rachel's place. It's the third in a sequence of three books, the first of which I really enjoyed. He showed me round the town, which was very kind of him.

which (USED TO REFER) pronoun

used as the subject or object of a verb to show what thing or things you are referring to, or to add information about the thing just mentioned. It is usually used for things, not people: These are principles which we all believe in. You know that little Italian restaurant - the one which I mentioned in my letter? Is that the film in which he kills his mother? The death of his son was an experience from which he never fully recovered. It isn't a subject to which I devote a great deal of thought.

that (INTRODUCING A CLAUSE) conjunction

used to introduce a clause which reports something or gives further information, although it can often be omitted: She said (that) she'd collect it for me after work. Is it true (that) she's gone back to teaching? We'll be there at about 7.30, provided/providing (that) there's a suitable train. It was so dark (that) I couldn't see anything.

Defining relative clauses in English Grammar

The subject

If I say:
"Trees are green". - I am talking about trees in general (All trees).
Question: Is this a true statement?
Answer: No, because some trees have red leaves and are not green.
In this statement the word Trees is the Subject.
"I like trees that are green". - I am talking about only the green trees.
Note:Here the relative pronoun (that) is helping to define the subject.
"I like trees are green". - This has no clear meaning now because (that) has been left out.

Defining relative clauses

Note:Sometimes these are called restrictive or integrated clauses.

This is when the clause tells us what the subject is exactly. The information provided in a defining relative clause is crucial in understanding the meaning of the sentence. Note also that we generally use THAT rather than WHICH as the relative pronoun in defining relative clauses, although WHICH (must be used rather than THAT) in non-defining relative clauses. So:
Knives that are sharp. This book, which I have already read.

  1. Pigs that can fly (All pigs that can fly, Not just any pig but only pigs that can fly)
  2. People who live in Africa - (All people who live in Africa, Only people who live in Africa)
  3. Things that are made of chocolate. -
  4. Places where it hardly ever rains.
  5. Is there somebody, who can explain this to me?
  6. Countries which Queen victoria visited. (Sometimes which is good in defining relative clauses)

More defining relative clauses.

  1. I like people who are kind and considerate (WHO tells us which people = defining.)
  2. I want a car that is cheap to run. (THAT tells us about the kind of car = defining.)
  3. The car (that) he crashed last week (See pronouns exeption rule above. "...that he crashed" )
Note: All of these sentences need the relative pronouns to make the meaning clear, because the relative clause is part of the subject.

Some common defining clauses that use THAT

  1. All that glitters is not gold!
  2. anything that you say will be taken down and may be used in evidence against you.
  3. everything that I have ever said is a lie!
  4. few that realise this are still alive today.
  5. The little that is known about it can be found in the library.
  6. Many that ate the meal later became very ill.
  7. Much that is known about this can be found on the internet.
  8. nothing that I say should be taken as gospel.
  9. None that I know are any better.
  10. something) that I said might mave upset you.

Non-defining relative clauses in English Grammar

These give more information about the subject but not about what the subject is These relative clauses are not subject defining

Think of the commas surrounding a non-defining relative clause. Imagine that the whole clause can be removed. The commas show us where the clause starts and ends. Try removing the non-defining relative clause. Does the sentence still make sense?
Practice removing non-defining clauses. Read this article. Find all the non-defining relative clauses, then read the text without those clauses. Did it still make sense?

Examples

  1. A new edition of the book, which has taken ten years to write, will be published this week. (Non-defining = Use which)
  2. Animals that/which eat meat don't eat so often. (Defining clause - Using that/which)

Relative clauses

What is a relative clause?


We can use relative clauses to join two English sentences, or to give more information about something.

I bought a new car. It is very fast.
→ I bought a new car that is very fast.

She lives in New York. She likes living in New York.
→ She lives in New York, which she likes.

Defining and Non-defining

A defining relative clause tells which noun we are talking about:

  • I like the woman who lives next door.
    (If I don’t say ‘who lives next door’, then we don’t know which woman I mean)

A non-defining relative clause gives us extra information about something. We don’t need this information to understand the sentence.

  • I live in London, which has some fantastic parks.
    (Everybody knows where London is, ‘which has some fantastic parks’ is extra information)

Defining relative clauses:

1: The relative pronoun is the subject:

First, let’s consider when the relative pronoun is the subject of a defining relative clause.

We can use ‘who’, ‘which’ or ‘that’. We use ‘who’ for people and ‘which’ for things. We can use ‘that’ for people or things.

The relative clause can come after the subject or the object of the sentence. We can’t drop the relative pronoun.

For example (clause after the object of the sentence):

  • I’m looking for a secretary who / that can use a computer well.
  • She has a son who / that is a doctor.
  • We bought a house which / that is 200 years old.
  • I sent a letter which / that arrived three weeks later.

More examples (clause after the subject of the sentence):

  • The people who / that live on the island are very friendly.
  • The man who / that phoned is my brother.
  • The camera which / that costs £100 is over there.
  • The house which / that belongs to Julie is in London.

2: The relative pronoun is the object:

Next, let’s talk about when the relative pronoun is the object of the clause. In this case we can drop the relative pronoun if we want to. Again, the clause can come after the subject or the object of the sentence. Here are some examples:

(clause after the object)

  • She loves the chocolate (which / that) I bought.
  • We went to the village (which / that) Lucy recommended.
  • John met a woman (who / that) I had been to school with.
  • The police arrested a man (who / that) Jill worked with.

(clause after the subject)

  • The bike (which / that) I loved was stolen.
  • The university (which / that) she likes is famous.
  • The woman (who / that) my brother loves is from Mexico.
  • The doctor (who / that) my grandmother liked lives in New York.

Non-defining relative clauses:

We don’t use ‘that’ in non-defining relative clauses, so we need to use ‘which’ if the pronoun refers to a thing, and ‘who’ if it refers to a person. We can’t drop the relative pronoun in this kind of clause, even if the relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.

(clause comes after the subject)

  • My boss, who is very nice, lives in Manchester.
  • My sister, who I live with, knows a lot about cars.
  • My bicycle, which I've had for more than ten years, is falling apart.
  • My mother's house, which I grew up in, is very small.

(clause comes after the object)

  • Yesterday I called our friend Julie, who lives in New York.
  • The photographer called to the Queen, who looked annoyed.
  • Last week I bought a new computer, which I don't like now
  • I really love the new Chinese restaurant, which we went to last night.

Prepositions and relative clauses

If the verb in the relative clause needs a preposition, we put it at the end of the clause:

For example:

  • listen to

The music is good. Julie listens to the music.
→ The music (which / that) Julie listens to is good.

  • work with

My brother met a woman. I used to work with the woman.
→ My brother met a woman (who / that) I used to work with.

  • go to

The country is very hot. He went to the country.
→ The country (which / that) he went to is very hot.

  • come from

I visited the city. John comes from the city.
→ I visited the city (that / which) John comes from.

  • apply for

The job is well paid. She applied for the job.
→ The job (which / that) she applied for is well paid.

Whose

‘Whose’ is always the subject of the relative clause and can’t be left out. It replaces a possessive. It can be used for people and things.

The dog is over there. The dog’s / its owner lives next door.
→ The dog whose owner lives next door is over there.

The little girl is sad. The little girl’s / her doll was lost.
→ The little girl whose doll was lost is sad.

The woman is coming tonight. Her car is a BMW.
→ The woman whose car is a BMW is coming tonight.

The house belongs to me. Its roof is very old.
→ The house whose roof is old belongs to me.

Where / when / why

We can sometimes use these question words instead of relative pronouns and prepositions.

I live in a city. I study in the city.

→ I live in the city where I study.
→ I live in the city that / which I study in.
→ I live in the city in which I study.

The bar in Barcelona is still there. I met my wife in that bar.

→ The bar in Barcelona where I met my wife is still there.
→ The bar in Barcelona that / which I met my wife in is still there.
→ The bar in Barcelona in which I met my wife is still there.

The summer was long and hot. I graduated from university in the summer.

→ The summer when I graduated from university was long and hot.
→ The summer that / which I graduated from university in was long and hot.
→ The summer in which I graduated was long and hot.

Relative Clause Drill.

Sound Silence This is the House that Jack built poem
This is the house that Jack built!
This is the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cat that killed the rat
That ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the priest all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cock that crowed in the morn
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the farmer sowing his corn
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built!

What do you think?

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