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)
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Hi Kirk,

Thanks for the response. And may add some more lines:

He seems to understand that he no longer has the luxury of time, even as he dusts off much of the old repressive playbook. He badly needs an election to claim some legitimacy. That that may win him a bit more support from Asian neighbours like Thailand and China, which are less squeamish about his barbaric methods.

Hello Gracy,

Thank you. The first 'that' begins a new clause and the second 'that' refers back to the need for an election and legitimacy. This is a fairly unusual and quite formal use. I wouldn't recommend it in most speaking or writing.

In addition, the sentence you ask about is not a complete sentence, which is quite unusual in formal writing. What's missing is a verb and predicate. For example, after 'barbaric methods', normally there'd be a comma and then something like 'is ultimately not important as far as the region is concerned.' (though of course I'm completely inventing what the writer wants to say here, as I have no idea what their intentions are).

If someone asked me to edit this text, I would not strongly, strongly suggest not using an incomplete sentence here. I wouldn't recommend you use it as a model.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by misatran on Mon, 03/04/2023 - 15:49


Hello, would you mind helping me with reduced relative clauses?
Are these sentences correct?
The MPs, who have finally voted, are leaving parliament.
→ The MPs, having finally voted, are leaving parliament.
or → The MPs, finally voting, are leaving parliament.

Thank you so much for your help in advance.

Hello misatran,

The first option is grammatically correct, but the second one is not.

It's a bit unusual to using a 'having + past participle' clause in that position, i.e. in the middle of the sentence, though definitely possible. When it's there I suppose you could consider it a reduced relative clause, but to be honest I'm not completely sure.

More frequently such a clause is used at the beginning of a sentence ('Having finally voted, the MPs are leaving parliament'). In this position, it's not a reduced relative clause, but rather a participle clause indicating a sequence of actions ('The MPs finally voted and are now leaving ...').

I hope this helps.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by msyashazii on Sun, 26/03/2023 - 15:11


Hello, sir. I have a question. Are these 2 sentences acceptable?
a. Most people love pizza which is not healthy.
b. Pizza, which most people love, is not healthy.

Hi msyashazii,

Yes, they are both grammatically fine!


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Mon, 13/03/2023 - 02:04



Could you please help me with the following:

Are both (if either) of these sentences acceptable:

1. I, who have lots of patience, was irritated with her behaviour.

2. I, who has lots of patience, was irritated with her behaviour.

I'm very very grateful for your important work and immense help and thank you very much indeed for answering this post beforehand!!!

Hi howtosay_,

Sentence 1 is grammatical. The verb ("have") should agree with what the relative pronoun refers to ("who" --> "I"). 

Sentence 2 is therefore not grammatical. But it may be considered acceptable, since it may be understood in the sense of: I, a person who has lots of patience ....

It is, however, a fairly uncommon and formal-sounding construction.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Rak Han on Tue, 14/02/2023 - 06:12


Before joining sentences together, is there a way to detemine which sentence should be the main clause and which sentence should be relative one?