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 (59 votes)

Submitted by Victoria7 on Thu, 28/07/2022 - 21:24


Good afternoon, I'm struggling with these pair of sentences because I don't understand why we should use which and where respectively:
1. We went to a shop which I never want to go back to.
2. We went to a shop where a latte cost 3 dollars.
I know the difference between each relative but I can't make them fit into these sentences. Thank you in advance!!

Hi Victoria7,

You actually have two different items here. Which (plus who, whose and that) is a relative pronoun. Where (plus why and when) is a relative adverb.

Both relative pronouns and relative adverbs introduce relative clauses, which function like adjectives to add extra information about a noun or noun phrase. However, grammatically they are a little different in terms of how we use them.

Relative pronouns stand for nouns or noun phrases. In your first sentence the relative pronoun 'which' stands for 'a shop'. Just as you need to say 'to a shop' you need to say 'to which', and this is why you have 'to' at the end of that sentence. You could also put the 'to' before the relative pronoun (We went to a shop to which I never want to go back), but this makes the sentence extremely formal.

Relative adverbs give extra information about the noun or noun phrase. There is no need to use 'to' here, just as we don't need to use 'to' when we use 'where'.


You can replace a relative adverb with a relative pronouns plus a preposition (where > to which, in which, at which etc depending on the context; when > during which, before which, after which etc)




The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by artantiina on Mon, 11/04/2022 - 16:35


Please help me to answer them.
Underline the noun clause in each sentence. In the space provided, indicate the function of Noun clause (as subject, object, or complement).
1.Where they stay is unknown. __________
2.I don’t have any idea who they really are. _____________
3.The lecturer gave whoever wanted it the paper __________
4.She isn’t much interested in what the class is studying _____________
5.That is what I’m going to say to you__________________
6.What he said to us was crystal clear ______________
7.I don’t know how long it will take to get to you ______________
8.Give whoever suggestions the answer_______________
9.The teacher sent the paper results to whoever was interested ______
This is what I told you about _____

Hi artantiina,

Sorry, we try not to answer questions like this here, because we might be doing students' homework for them! But if you have a more specific question, let us know.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Giao Huynh on Fri, 01/04/2022 - 06:51


Hello everyone, Can you help me with this one?
The children are my students. They are playing soccer over there. (Combine the sentences using Relative Clause)
1. The children who/that are playing soccer over there are my students.
2. The children are my students, who are playing soccer ovet there.
3. The children who/that areny students are playing soccer over there.

Which one(s) is/ are correct? Thank you so much!

Hello Giao Huynh,

I'm afraid we don't generally provide help with answers to questions from other sources. We're happy to explain the rules and tendencies of English but if we start just providing answers to these kinds of questions we'll end up doing users' homework and tests for them, and that's not our role!



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter. Thank you so much for your effort to reply to my question. I understand what is implied in your answer. To clarify, I am an English teacher, and the question is included in one of our tests for our/my students. The thing is, there has been debate among us teachers over the answers to the questions. And my side is that:
1. The children who/that are playing soccer over there are my students: CORRECT.
2. The children are my students, who are playing soccer over there: INCORRECT: non-defining relative clause is used to add information to a Noun in a complete clause in terms of grammar and meaning, which this one does not satisfy. Plus, instead of saying this, we had better say: “My students are playing soccer over there.” The students are obviously children.
3. The children that/ who are my students are playing soccer over there: INCORRECT: Anyone’s students can be students, not just my students. Therefore, this defining relative clause in the sentence has no use of defining the noun “the children”. Plus, if there are two clauses in a sentence, one generally (they are my students) and one specifically (they are playing soccer over there) indicates some noun, we’d better use the more specific one (they are playing soccer over there) as the Relative Clause.

From my side, I have just presented what I understand about the use of Relative clause in general, and in this case particularly. The other side, however, concluded that all were correct. Honestly, I came up with seeking for help from your group, a prestigious one, in order to find out the right thing to teach our students. So can you still please help?
Thank you,


Hello again Giao,

Thank you for the explanation. From time to time students try to use LearnEnglish to get answers for their homework so we are quite careful about this - as a teacher yourself I'm sure you understand.


With regards to the sentences:

1. I agree that the first sentence is correct. This is fairly standard defining/restrictive relative clause identifying which children we are talking about.


2. Again, I agree here. However, this sentence is difficult. In terms of grammatical construction it is fine but it is very awkward conceptually. 'The children' already points out the people we are talking about, so it makes no sense to then point them out again with a non-defining relative clause. You could, however, think of a context in which you might say something like this. For example, imagine I show a photo of some children. I might say 'The children (i.e. the ones in the photo) are my students. Then I notice that they are playing soccer and I add this information. However, we would usually signal this explicitly in some way. For example:

The children are my students - who are playing soccer over there, in fact / actually / now that I look / by happy chance / right this moment.

Without this explicit signal that you have just noticed something new I don't think the sentence works.


3. The third sentence is correct. Imagine a context in which there are several groups of children. You want to identify the group which is formed of your students. To do this you use a defining relative clause:


The children who are my students are playing soccer over there. [as opposed to the children who are not my students, who are playing tennis]


I hope that helps to clarify it.



The LearnEnglish Team