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: 4.4 (15 votes)

Hello Zamra,

You can use both that and which in defining relative clauses.

In non-defining relative clauses that cannot be used.

As far as meaning goes, that can refer to people or things. Which can only refer to things. Other than that, the two are interchangeable. That is more common in spoken English.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abo omar on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 20:09

hello "this is the house whose entrance is guarded" using the relative clause whose with house is correct or which as house is inanimate
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 07:34

In reply to by abo omar


Hello abo omar,

It's perfectly fine to use whose with things as well as people, so your sentence is correct.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nathalie jo on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 01:21

Hello, please help me with these two sentences. 1. Joe is the best boy (that/who) won a prize. 2. Fortunately, I found the mobile (I had lost/ that I had lost) Thank you!

Submitted by Kareninoiso on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 04:59

Why is “The place where I want to visit is Paris” incorrect? I need to explain to a student

Hello Kareninoiso,

We don't normally use a relative clause beginning with 'where' after the word 'place' -- instead we use 'that' or just omit the relative pronoun: 'The place I want to visit is Paris'.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team


Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 01:00

Hello, here the questions for assignment, the number of question do not match with the number of carrying marks

Hi Emmanuel,

Yes, that's right! You may need to mark more than one answer for each question (it may not have just one answer). 

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hn0062 on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 20:08

the car that I have is from Renault company and I love it.

Submitted by ldiass on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 20:05

Hello, I would like to know if, in the following sentence, the relative pronoun can be omitted after "the one", or it can't. The conference held in China, the one that approved the world trade agreement drawn up by European and Asian states, has now ended. Because, in my comprehension, although it is the subject of the clause, "the one" will act as a subject too. Thank you,
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