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)

Submitted by Yigitcan on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 19:15

Hello team, I am confused about this sentence '' I love this film. It's a classic romantic-comedy where two heroes end up failing in love and getting togather after some problems, of course.'' Why we use '' where'' clause? Romantic-comedy isn't place.

Hi Yigitcan,

Actually, we can use where figuratively, to refer to something which can be imagined as a space containing other things. In this example, the romantic comedy film contains characters and story events. We often use where like this to refer to situations, processes and stories. There are more examples on this page in the Cambridge Dictionary.

Does that make sense?


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you teacher also In this sentence;can we use ''which'' instead of ''where''?

Hi Yigitcan,

Yes! Instead of where, you can use which, but it must be together with in

  • It's a classic romantic comedy in which two heroes end up failing in love ...

That's because the clause (two heroes end up failing in love) is an action/event that happens in (i.e. inside) the romantic comedy. The clause doesn't describe the romantic comedy (as in, for example: It's a classic romantic comedy which has two heroes).

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nbu2316 on Sun, 08/11/2020 - 20:07

Hello! I'm not sure whether I'm right here but there is one thing I always come across which makes me struggle. For the context: For my current study I have to analyze a sample of academic text and extract all relative clauses I can find with regard to a classification table by Roland et al. (2007). In most cases, this is not hard, but then there are sentences (as follow) that confuse me: "The contexts in which the utterances were produced will also be an influential factor with different conversations possibly dictating specific language, relevant to the task being carried out, to the speakers" Here, I think to have two different relative clauses: 1) in which the utterances were produced (a full passive relative clause defining the subject of the main clause), and 2) being carried out (a reduced passive relative clause defining 'the task') While the first case seems to be very clear and simple, I am not sure about the second one as in the results of another analysis, these kind of sentences were regarded as non-relative clauses. Therefore, I would like to ask if defining clauses such as the second example above belong to the category of relative clauses or not. Note: According to Roland et al. (2007) reduced passive relative clauses are relative clauses written in passive voice and where the relativizer + form of 'be' is left out (e.g. This is the dog which was attacked by the cat. -> This is the dog attacked by the cat.). I THANK YOU SO MUCH in advance for your help. Kind regards, Nehir
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 10/11/2020 - 07:47

In reply to by nbu2316


Hello Nehir,

As you say, I think the first one is clear here: it is a relative clause headed by a relative pronoun introduced by a preposition (in which); you could instead use the relative adverb where, though stylistically this would be less suitable.


The second example is also a relative clause, but is reduced. The full (non-reduced) form would be as follows:

...relevant to the task which was being carried out, to the speakers...

I think the other way this could be seen is as a participle clause. However, participle clauses have an adverbial function rather than adjectival, and in your sentence the function is clearly adjectival.

You can read more about participle clauses on this page:



The LearnEnglish Team

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

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.



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
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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