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.

who/that

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.

which/that 

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

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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

Submitted by Zamra on Sat, 07/11/2020 - 16:04

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Hello .please tell me the exact difference between using 'which/that' I get confused while using these

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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hello "this is the house whose entrance is guarded" using the relative clause whose with house is correct or which as house is inanimate
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 07:34

In reply to by abo omar

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Hello abo omar,

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

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

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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,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

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

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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,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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

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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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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 10:02

In reply to by ldiass

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Hello Idiass,

No, the relative pronoun cannot be omitted in that sentence.

There are several phrases like the one that: many that, some that, all that, none that etc. They do not act as additional subjects but rather simply modify the relative pronoun.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nure Alam on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 09:00

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is it that the same form of relative clause is for singular and plural nouns or pronouns?

Hi Nure Alam,

Good question. Yes, it's the same form. But, as in ordinary sentences, the verb needs to agree with the subject (whether it is singular or plural). For example:

  • The woman who lives next door works in a bank. 
  • The women who live next door work in a bank.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reemtb on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 22:10

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Hello teachers I have a question, if you don’t mind. The strawberries that were being eaten at the wedding last night were grown in Scotland ). My question is, which one is the correct structure to reduce relative clauses. The strawberries being eaten at the wedding last night were grown in Scotland. Or The strawberries eaten at the wedding last night were grown in Scotland. Thank you in advance.

Hello Reemtb,

You can use either form here, but there is a difference in meaning. If you use the continuous form (being eaten) then you are describing a moment at which the action was in progress; the strawberries still existed.

If you use the simple form (eaten) then we understand that you are talking about strawberries which no longer exist; the action is complete; the fruit is in the guests' stomachs.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reemtb on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 22:02

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Hello Mr. I have a question. Can infinitive replace relative clause when the verb is present perfect or just with past simple and present simple? For example, The only person who has seen her recently is Martin. Can I say, The only person to see her recently is Martin. Or just with simple past and simple present!!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 08:53

In reply to by Reemtb

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Hello Reembt,

It's quite possible to use the infinitive in this way. The adverb recently provides the context required for the meaning to be clear.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Could you correct this sentence if it is wrong? She is the youngest player to be honoured. Is this sentence correct?

Hello Reemtb,

In a context where it's clear what she is honoured for, yes, that looks correct to me.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Karan Narang on Mon, 27/07/2020 - 15:27

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Could you explain it for me. The assistant that we met was really kind. And 2nd The assistant that helped us was really kind. Now I have got doubt with both sentence, In both sentence used 2nd form of verb is met or helped after ward put was. why did put was, it difficult to understand for me because already have used past form then why did need to put "was" these sentence. Could you more specific with these sentence ?
Hi Karan Narang, I'll try to explain. The sentence structure is: - X was really kind. X is the subject, and 'was' is the verb. X can be just a noun (e.g. 'The assistant'). But in your examples, there are relative clauses too ('The assistant that we met' and 'The assistant that helped us'). These have verbs in them ('met' and 'helped'), but the verbs are just adding some description to the subject. They are a part of the subject (i.e. part of a noun phrase). They aren't the main verb in the sentence. That's why 'was' is needed. Otherwise, the sentences don't have a main verb. 'Was' is in the past simple because it refers to the same time as meeting the assistant or helping us. Both of these were in the past simple in your examples. Does that make sense? Jonathan The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 14:02

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Thank you for the grammar explanation!

Submitted by NoobsDeath on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 17:03

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Hi, hope you can explain to me these questions: Why can the word"that" in a sentence replace all the relative pronoun? Just like this: It is June that we got married. 2. Could you give me some feedback for the essay I wrote on the link below? Just consider the type of graph and the figures right: xxxxxxxxxxx But if there is so much inability, just tell me. But if you could, please do it. 3. For the last question, this one could be very confusing to you but I still ask: Is the sentence below incorrect and why? ( because I think the form "going" can be " who are going" while it is possible to say we who are) We going there right now.

Hello NoobsDeath,

I'm not sure why a language works in the way it does is a question that has an answer. Languages evolve and develop their rules and systems over time; there is no planned purpose which would imply a reason for a particular rule. It is as it is, simply.

Note that we can use that to replace the relative pronouns which and who, not whose and not the relative adverbs where and when. We also do not use that in non-defining relative clauses.

 

I'm afraid we don't offer a proofreading or correction service on LearnEnglish. We're a small team and it's just not possible for us to do this. We focus on explaining difficult areas of English and offering advice to learners.

 

The sentence you quote in your third question is incorrect. You need to include the auxiliary verb be when forming the present continuous and not only use the -ing form:

We are going there right now.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

About your third question. Even if 'We going there right now' was used as a noun phrase, it's still incorrect. Because the 'we' are definite, meaning it can't be restricted in any ways. So, you have to use the unrestrictive usage of a relative clause. And in addition, personal pronouns can't be restricted, so there can't be any modifiers in the back of them. (Helping you as a neighbor country citizen. I hope the relationship between South Korea and Japan gets better. It's detrimental to both of us.)

Submitted by Lal on Tue, 16/06/2020 - 09:07

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

Kirk

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

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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]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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It's really helpful.

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

In reply to by M.bozakli

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

Welcome!

'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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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]

 

Peter

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

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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