Relative clauses: defining relative clauses

Relative clauses: defining relative clauses

Do you know how to define who or what you are talking about using relative clauses? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

Average: 4.2 (71 votes)

Submitted by keka on Fri, 03/04/2020 - 21:20

Hello, could you tell me if 'which took' is defining(or non-defining) and why in this sentence? Few approve of al-Qaeda, which took responsibility for the attacks on two Istanbul synagogues and on the British consulate. Thank you

Hello keka,

In that sentence, which took... is a non-defining relative clause. It does not identify the subject but rather provides extra information about it.

Everybody likes dogs, which are called man's best friend. [the relative clause provides extra information]

Everybody likes dogs which wag their tails and want to play. [the relative clause identifies which dogs we are talking about]



The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much Peter for your help! It was very informative and useful.

Submitted by algnzl on Sun, 01/03/2020 - 14:22

Hello, dear teacher. What is the function of the relative pronoun "that" in the case of the following sentence? "This is due to the belief that even the dullest work is better than idleness" Or is it the case of an introductory relative adverb?

Hello algnzl

In this case, 'that' is best described as a conjunction.

There are quite a few nouns (such as 'belief') that can be followed by a 'that' clause to express opinions and feelings.

You can read a little more about this in the Postmodifiers section of our Noun phrases page as well as this dictionary page.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NoobsDeath on Thu, 27/02/2020 - 16:44

Hi. I want you to answer these questions 1. I am always in a struggle with this sentence: Dual language commentary where available I cannot understand why they do not add ”is” before ” available ” 2. Is it correct to say that every noun which has ”ion” after is adjective? Because this cannot be correct if this word put in here: Assassination foundation Thank you so much for receiving
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 28/02/2020 - 08:51

In reply to by NoobsDeath


Hi NoobsDeath,

The first sentence is abbreviated in some way, and is not a full sentence grrammatically. Without knowing the context I can't say what information has been omitted, but it could be something like this:

We offer dual language commentary where available.

I prefer dual language commentary where available.

Please arrange dual language commentary where available.

Dual language commentary is provided where available.


The suffix -ion is generally associated with nouns rather than adjectives.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for replying. I am in struggle in these things: 1. What the differences between You cannot be doing that You cannot do that Secondly, I definitely suprised 'cause some newspaper of some native speaking countries write like this: Manchester City get banned for attempting UCL for 2 years. Bayern win 7-0 on aggregate.As Robben thresh Barca. All these words are written by native speakers. How can some native speakers or some foundations such as EUFA get wrong with present simple. Hope you reply me soon

Hello NoobsDeath

'get banned' and 'win' are correct present simple forms here. In British English, very often when we refer to a group (such as 'Manchester City' or 'Bayern', which are of course football teams consisting of many people), we use a plural verb even though the noun is grammatically singular. This is why 'get' and 'win' are correct here. I don't understand how a title says 'Robben thresh Barça', as clearly Robben is an individual; I would write 'threshes'.

As for your first question, I'm afraid it's difficult to explain why one form or the other is used without having some kind of context, but in general the first form suggests that the action is in progress, whereas the second does not -- it could be an action someone is considering but hasn't done yet. I'd suggest you have a look at our continuous aspect page to read a bit more about this. If you have any questions about it, please ask us there.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team