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 (70 votes)

Hello Tenzin Thinley,

Where and when are not relative pronouns but are actually relative adverbs and they cannot be omitted. You can often use a relative pronoun (that/which) with a preposition, however, and then it may be possible to omit the relative pronoun:

> This is the house where I live. [cannot omit the relative adverb]


> This is the house in which I live / This is the house which I live in. [relative pronoun with preposition]


> This is the house I live in. [relative pronoun omitted]



The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user OlaIELTS

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Mon, 25/05/2020 - 04:23

It's really helpful.

Submitted by Delrey on Mon, 18/05/2020 - 23:11

Can you please help me out with my clause assignments

Hello Delrey,

We don't give help with homework or study assignments, I'm afraid. We're happy to give extra explanations of the material on our pages, or help with general questions about the language, but we don't do assignments for our users.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by M.bozakli on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 08:46

hi. why in this case I can not use where they ate at a resturant...........serves only a vegan dishes in this case, we used that or whish but I thought it is also talking about the place
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 15:02

In reply to by M.bozakli


Hello M.bozakil

The verb 'serves' needs a subject, and the subject would be the relative pronoun 'which' or 'that'. 'where' can't be a subject in a relative clause. You could reword the sentence slightly and say 'They ate at a restaurant where they only serve vegan dishes'. In this case, the verb 'serve' has the subject 'they', and 'where' indicates the place.

I hope this helps. If you study relative clauses beginning with 'where' (you can see a few more examples here), I think you'll see that they all have a subject and verb that are other words.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Navreet on Thu, 09/04/2020 - 14:24

Hello teachers, Although I have created my account on LearnEnglish recently, I became a big fan of this platform. I am always keen on joining the courses by BC. Thank you British council team I want to ask you that I am always confused between 'who' and 'whom'. Can you please explain me when to use who and when it is appropriate to use whom?

Hello Navreet


'whom' is the object form of 'who', so when the relative pronoun 'who' is the object (for example, of a verb or preposition), you can use 'whom' instead of 'who'. Especially when it is the object of a verb, very often people say 'who' instead of 'whom', which sounds formal in most situations nowadays.

You can read about all of this in more detail on our Relative pronouns and relative clauses page.

Best wishes


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Asta on Tue, 07/04/2020 - 06:51

I want to ask how sentences could be rewritten using the relative pronoun WHICH? 1.The area where Dan's training began was the furthest from the hole. 2. The day when Dan was able to play a whole game came after more than a year's training. Thank you.

Hello Asta

In both cases, you could use a preposition + 'which' in place of 'where' or 'when':

  1. The area in which Dan's training ...
  2. The day on which Dan was able ...

You can see an explanation and more examples of this in the Relative pronouns with prepositions on our Relative pronouns and relative clauses page.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team