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: 4.4 (35 votes)
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Hello BobMux,

To be honest, I'm not completely sure if it's possible to use both sorts of relative clauses in the same sentence. What I can say with confidence is that I wouldn't recommend it.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sisi on Fri, 19/02/2021 - 16:52

Hello, can you explain me why in the sentence: They ate at a restaurant ___ serves only vegan dishes. We can't put Where? Because we are talking about a place

Hello sisi,

You need to use a pronoun in the gap as it is the subject of the verb 'serves'. 'Which' is a pronoun, but 'where' is actually an adverb. If you use 'where' then you need to add a subject after it:

They ate at a restaurant which serves only vegan dishes.

They ate at a restaurant where they serve only vegan dishes.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Olli T. on Sat, 30/01/2021 - 10:03

Good morning LearnEnglish team, Is there any fixed rule concerning the position of participle adjectives, i.e. whether they are placed before or after a noun? Take the term "1kg of fish caught", for example - is the postponed position of the adjective "caught" (as a reduced relative) binding, acc. to English grammar rules, or is it just formal style and the term "1kg of caught fish" would also be fine? The only source I found is "Advanced Grammar in Use" from Cambridge University Press, Unit 69 (B) regarding "participle adjectives and compound adjective, e.s". The author gives examples of such adjectives - some of them are typically found directly before the noun, others are usually go directly behind the noun, and the third group of adjectives may be placed before or after the noun. Many thanks in advance for your assistance.

Submitted by Gab07 on Wed, 27/01/2021 - 18:11

Hello, I study relatives clauses in my English course and I don't know where I put commas and my sentences aren't correct "my brother is dating Mary who I can’t handle" "the people he works for no longer live in Belgium" "the house which is on the corner of the street is wonderful "The girls who tom goes out with is very beautiful

Hello Gab07,

Non-defining relative clauses have commas before the relative clause, while defining relative clauses do not. Thus, the key is to indentify if your sentence is a defining relative clause or a non-defining relative clause:

relative pronouns and relative clauses

> defining relative clauses

> non-defining relative clauses


In brief, if the relative clause identifies the noun and is necessary for the sentence to make sense, it is a defining relative clause. If the relative clause simply provides additional but not essential information, it is a non-defining relative clause.


For example:

"my brother is dating Mary, who I can’t handle"

the relative clause does not tell us anything essential to identifying Mary - it does not tell us 'this Mary and not the other Mary - so it is a non-defining relative clause and a comma is used.

"the people he works for no longer live in Belgium"

Here, the relative clause gives us essential information. It tells us which people you are talking about. Without the relative clause the sentence would make no sense as it would refer to all people or people in general.


I hope that helps. We don't provide answers for tasks from elsewhere, so I'm not going to give you the answers to all of the questions. The explanation should help you work out the others for your self, I hope. Good luck!



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maryami123 on Wed, 09/12/2020 - 19:34

Hi I had a question, could we only omit which, that and who or could we also leave out whose and when? Thank you
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 07:58

In reply to by Maryami123


Hello Maryami123,

No, we do not omit whose, where and when from relative clauses.



The LearnEnglish Team

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