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: 4.5 (24 votes)
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Submitted by Lal on Tue, 16/06/2020 - 09:07

Hello Sir This is the video that I wanted to show you. In the above sentence can I use 'which' instead of 'that' Please let me know Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

Yes, both which and that are possible here. It's also possible to omit the relative pronoun entirely.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by claudiaxxx on Sun, 14/06/2020 - 11:26

Hello, I have a question. In the sentence "He visited his uncle who often lent him money" -who often lent him money' is the relative clause. But which Syntactic Function (sub,obj,adv,compl,pred) does it have? I'm between an Adverbial and an Object, I'm not sure. kind regards

Hello claudiaxxx

There are different terms out there, but I'd say that it's an object predicative -- it modifies the object 'his uncle'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, please if you can solve for me this exercise. Thanks in advance. Write a new sentence as similar as possible in meaning to the original sentence. Use the words given in bold letters. 1. You look awful. Have you been unwell . As though ____________________________________________________ 2. Unfortunately he was driving very fast. If only __________________________________________________ 3. We really ought to pay the bill now . It’s time ______________________________________________________ 4.Taking the later flight would be preferable for me . Would sooner_____________________________________________________

Submitted by Tenzin Thinley on Wed, 10/06/2020 - 15:30

Hello Respected Sir/Madame, Can I omit all the relative pronouns in defining relative clause. Please answer these. It is very important. On your online content. It says that we can omit (who, whom and that) when they are object of defining relative clause. Then what about other relative pronoun like "where and when". Can we omit these and any other relative pronoun. I really need your help . Yours sincerely Tenzin Thinley

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

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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