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Relative clauses – defining relative clauses

Do you know how to define who or what you are talking about using relative clauses?

Look at these examples to see how defining relative clauses are used.

Are you the one who sent me the email?
The phone which has the most features is also the most expensive.
This is the video that I wanted to show you.
The person they spoke to was really helpful.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Relative clauses – defining relative clauses: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Relative clauses give us information about the person or thing mentioned. 

Defining relative clauses give us essential information – information that tells us who or what we are talking about.

The woman who lives next door works in a bank. 
These are the flights that have been cancelled.

We usually use a relative pronoun or adverb to start a defining relative clause: who, which, that, when, where or whose.


We can use who or that to talk about people. that is more common and a bit more informal.

She's the woman who cuts my hair.
He's the man that I met at the conference.


We can use which or that to talk about things. that is more common and a bit more informal.

There was a one-year guarantee which came with the TV.
The laptop that I bought last week has started making a strange noise!

Other pronouns

when can refer to a time.

Summer is the season when I'm happiest.

where can refer to a place.

That's the stadium where Real Madrid play.

whose refers to the person that something belongs to.

He's a musician whose albums have sold millions. 

Omitting the relative pronoun

Sometimes we can leave out the relative pronoun. For example, we can usually leave out who, which or that if it is followed by a subject.

The assistant [that] we met was really kind.
   (we = subject, can omit that)

We can't usually leave it out if it is followed by a verb.

The assistant that helped us was really kind.
   (helped = verb, can't omit that)

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1-B2: Relative clauses – defining relative clauses: 2

Language level

Intermediate: B1


Can you tell me the difference in the grammar between these two sentences:
I can't remember who told me
I can't remember the person who told me.
In what cases "who" can stand alone (don't need a noun before it)
Thank you

Hi Quynh Nhu,

It depends on which structures can go with the verb. The verb here is remember, and remember can be followed by a question word (as in your sentence 1) or a noun phrase (as in your sentence 2). It can be followed other structures as well, e.g. a that clause and an -ing verb - see this Cambridge Dictionary page for examples.

Other verbs may have different structures. With meet, for example, it's possible to say I would like to meet the person who helped me but not I would like to meet who helped me.

I hope that helps!


The LearnEnglish Team

Good evening LearnEnglish team,
I'd like to know your answer to this question about relative clauses, fill it and explain your answer please.
Salma handed her glasses, ________ were broken, to her PE teacher.

All the best,

Hello ayman hijazin,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to questions and tasks from elsewhere. We're happy to provide explanations of how the language works and to explain our own materials, of course. If we answered questions like this we'd soon end up doing users' homework and tests for them, which isn't really our role!



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, sirs
I'd like to know your answer to this question, please.
The employer ___I work for is a successful organisation.
a) who
b) that
c) whom
I see 'THAT' is the best option here. Yet, what about the other ones, especially I read somewhere that we can use 'who' with nouns like 'factory , company ......'

Hello aymanme2,

Both 'that' and 'who' are possible in this sentence. I wouldn't say either is better; both are fine. As you say, we can use 'who' for things which we see as comprised of people: companies, organisations, teams, nations etc.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your response, sir.
What about 'whom'? Could it work as an object, too?

Thank you, sir. Appreciated

Hello The LearnEnglish Team,
I would be greatful if you could help me with the sentence below;
Germans are good at dealing with time-management, wich is often spoken and adviced to have by motivators and most successful people, which i really want to get
I think that in this sentence both non-defining
(which is often spoken and.....) and defining (which i really want to get) relative clauses are used. Actually, Is it possible to use both clauses( defining and non-defining) in a single sentence?