Relative clauses – defining relative clauses

 

 

Relative clauses – defining 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 clauses

Look at this sentence:

  • The woman who lives next door works in a bank.

who lives next door’ is a defining relative clause. It tells us which woman we are talking about.

Look at some more examples:

  • Look out! There’s the dog that bit my brother.
  • The film that we saw last week was awful.
  • This is the skirt I bought in the sales.

Can you identify the defining relative clauses? They tell us which dog, which film and which skirt we are talking about.

Relative pronouns

Relative clauses are usually introduced by a relative pronoun (usually who, which, that, but when, where and whose are also possible)

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.

Simplifying defining relative clauses

Defining relative clauses can be simplified, or reduced, in several ways:

  1. If the relative pronoun is the object of the verb then it can be omitted:
  • This is the skirt that I bought in the sales.
  • This is the skirt which I bought in the sales.
  • This is the skirt I bought in the sales.

In this sentence ‘skirt’ is the object of the verb (buy). ‘I’ is the subject. When the relative pronoun is the object, it can be omitted.

Note that if the relative pronoun is the subject of the verb then it cannot be omitted:

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

BUT NOT

  • This is the dog bit my brother.
  1. If the relative clause contains the verb 'be' + any of the following then it can be reduced:

(a) be + an adjective phrase

  • The man who is interested in your car will telephone later.
  • The man interested in your car will telephone later.

Note that other verbs are possible here as well as 'be', such as 'seem', 'look' and 'appear'.

(b) be + a prepositional phrase

  • The books which are on the table have been read.
  • The books on the table have been read.

(c) be + a past participle [a passive form]

  • A person who has been tricked once is careful the next time.
  • A person tricked once is careful the next time.

(d) be + a present participle [a continuous form]

  • The family who are living in the house are very rich.
  • The family living in the house are very rich.

 

Exercise

 

Exercise