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 (71 votes)

Hello BobMux,

It's not clear in this case whether the farmers use the substance or the tank. Usually the context will make it clear, but sometimes you have to ask for more information to know for sure.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk, Your explanations are always clear and easy to understand.
Profile picture for user Quynh Nhu

Submitted by Quynh Nhu on Sat, 27/03/2021 - 00:40

Can you tell me the difference in the grammar between these two sentences: I can't remember who told me I can't remember the person who told me. In what cases "who" can stand alone (don't need a noun before it) Thank you

Hi Quynh Nhu,

It depends on which structures can go with the verb. The verb here is remember, and remember can be followed by a question word (as in your sentence 1) or a noun phrase (as in your sentence 2). It can be followed other structures as well, e.g. a that clause and an -ing verb - see this Cambridge Dictionary page for examples.

Other verbs may have different structures. With meet, for example, it's possible to say I would like to meet the person who helped me but not I would like to meet who helped me.

I hope that helps!


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ayman hijazin on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 15:27

Good evening LearnEnglish team, I'd like to know your answer to this question about relative clauses, fill it and explain your answer please. Salma handed her glasses, ________ were broken, to her PE teacher. All the best, Ayman

Hello ayman hijazin,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to questions and tasks from elsewhere. We're happy to provide explanations of how the language works and to explain our own materials, of course. If we answered questions like this we'd soon end up doing users' homework and tests for them, which isn't really our role!



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello aymanme2,

Both 'that' and 'who' are possible in this sentence. I wouldn't say either is better; both are fine. As you say, we can use 'who' for things which we see as comprised of people: companies, organisations, teams, nations etc.



The LearnEnglish Team