Relative clauses – non-defining relative clauses

Do you know how to give extra information about someone or something using relative clauses?

Look at these examples to see how non-defining relative clauses are used.

Jack, who's retired now, spends a lot of time with his grandchildren.
We want to see the new Tom Carter film, which was released on Friday.
My sister, whose dog I'm looking after, is visiting a friend in Australia.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1–B2: Relative clauses – non-defining relative clauses: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Relative clauses give us information about the person or thing mentioned.

Non-defining relative clauses give us extra information about someone or something. It isn't essential for understanding who or what we are talking about.

My grandfatherwho's 87, goes swimming every day.
The house, which was built in 1883, has just been opened to the public.
The award was given to Sara, whose short story impressed the judges

We always use a relative pronoun or adverb to start a non-defining relative clause: who, which, whose, when or where (but not that). We also use commas to separate the clause from the rest of the sentence.

who, which and whose

We can use who to talk about people, which to talk about things and whose to refer to the person or thing that something belongs to.

Yesterday I met my new boss, who was very nice.
The house, which is very big, is also very cold!
My next-door neighbour, whose children go to school with ours, has just bought a new car.
After the port there is a row of fishermen's houses, whose lights can be seen from across the bay.

Places and times

We can use which with a preposition to talk about places and times. In these cases it's more common to use where or when instead of which and the preposition.

City Park, which we used to go to, has been closed down.
City Park, where we used to go, has been closed down.
December, which Christmas is celebrated in, is a summer month for the southern hemisphere.
December, when Christmas is celebrated, is a summer month for the southern hemisphere.

However, when we use which without a preposition, we can't use where or when.

Centre Park, which we love, is always really busy on Saturdays.
February, which is my favourite month, lasts 29 days this year.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1–B2: Relative clauses – non-defining relative clauses: 2

 

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Language level

Hello mohsen11,

You're right -- that should be 'fishermen's', not 'fisherman's'. I've fixed the error.

Thanks very much for pointing this out to us and sorry for any confusion!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sirs, please correct them for me, thank you in advance. Non – defining relative clauses: 1. who (subject): Michelle Obama, who was the most admired woman in the eyes of Americans, was a first lady from 2009 to 2017. 2. who/whom (object): They’re Hollywood stars, who/ whom the Press would like most to interview. 3. which (subject): Nha Trang Vinpearl Land, which measures 200,000 square meters in total area, is one of the most entertaining places in Vietnam. 4. which (object): My friend’s bought a new Toyota car, which I’ve most liked for a long time. 5. whose (people): Those are Mr. and Mrs. Smith, whose daughter was my ex – girlfriend. 6. whose (things): India, whose population is 2nd in the world, is a country in South Asia. 7. where (places): FuJi, where many people used to climb on the top of, is one of famous mountains in Japan. 8. when (times): 20th December 2000 was our wedding date, when my wife’s father died because of car crash accident.

Hello haovivu128,

We can generally help you with a specific question about a specific part of one sentence, but I'm afraid we're not able to offer the service of correcting our users' writing.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Respected dear team, The Orkney islands are situated in the path of the warm Gulf stream(which) continuously washes nutrients ashore and keeps the winters relatively mild. 1. What is the reason that we have to use (which) in here, is it because of the verb(washes)? 2. In the same sentences when can use (where) instead of (which)? I mean what changes? Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

A relative pronoun is always required when its relative clause gives extra information. That is why 'which', which refers to 'the warm Gulf stream', is required here.

I'm afraid that 'where' doesn't work here because the antecedent 'the warm Gulf stream' is a natural force, not a place. If you changed the sentence a bit so that the relative clause referred to the 'the path of the warm Gulf stream' (which is a place), then 'where' could work: 'The Orkney Islands are situated in the path of the warm Gulf stream, where nutrients are abundant and the winter is milder.'

Hope that helps you make sense of it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I have a question. It is about "whom". May I omit this relative pronoun of it is followed by a subject? Thanks for the lesson
Hello The LearnEnglish Team, I would like to get an answer to my question. So in this case below non-defining relative clause is used: Global warming has ended without agreement. It was held in The Hague=> The global warming conference, wich was held in The Hague, has ended without agreement. (Non-defining) BUT i think we can use defining relative clause here too, so On what does it depend choosing non-defining or defining relative clause when we speak or write?

Hell BobMux,

We use defining relative clauses when we want to indicate which thing we are talking about.

 

In your example there is only one global warming conference, so there is no need to indicate which one the speaker means. However, imagine a situation in which there are two global warming conferences, one in The Hague and one is another city.

In this case you would need to indicate which of the two conferences you are talking about, so a defining relative clause would be appropriate:

The global warming conference which was held in The Hague has ended...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In this sentence the relative clause gives information about the person, doesn't it?? Jack, who's retired now, spends a lot of time with his grandchildren.

Hello Yacine babacine,

Yes, that's correct. The relative clause describes 'Jack' in this sentence. The relative clause almost always directly follows the word or phrase which it describes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear team, I'm slightly confused about this. e.g, City Park, which we used to go to, has been closed down. e.g, City Park, where we used to go, has been closed down. From the examples, it show that "where" is used in the sentences without preposition. But, the explanation said that I can't use "where" or "when" without preposition. However, when we use which without a preposition, we can't use where or when. e.g, Centre Park, which we love, is always really busy on Saturdays. e.g, February, which is my favourite month, lasts 29 days this year. Thanks a lot
Hello Sir. I don't understand what is this mean. (When we use "which" with a preposition, we can't use "where or which.")
Hello sir In these sentences, " The hostel, where we've stayed at several times, is simple but clean." " I sometimes go and study in my local park, where I can get some fresh air". why we cannot use "which" instead of "where(s)"?

Hello Arjun Yadav,

Notice that in the example sentences in the explanation above, the relative clause begins with 'which' when a preposition of place (like 'to' or 'in') is used and it begins with 'where' when there is no preposition:

City Park, which we used to go to, has been closed down.
City Park, where we used to go, has been closed down.

The first of your two sentences is not correct -- it has 'where' and the preposition 'at'. You could correct it by saying 'where we've stayed several times' or 'at which we've stayed several times'.

The second of your two sentences is correct, but, as you say, you can't use 'which' in it. This is because there is no preposition that would work in the prepositional clause. You could change it to put a preposition there, e.g. 'I study in my local park, which I go to to get fresh air'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, Relative clause defining: The woman who lives next door works in a bank. Relative clause non-defijing: My grandfather, who's 87, goes swimming every day. Cal you please explain the difference between these two sentences in terms of how “relative clause defining” is different from “relative clause non-defining”?

Hello Chekytan,

We're happy to help you with a specific question, but if you are seeking explanations of relative clauses, please see the explanations above, on this page, and on this page.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, I have read the explanation of both defining and non-defining relative clauses. I just want to know the different between following examples. Relative clause defining: The woman who lives next door works in a bank. Relative clause non-defijing: My grandfather, who's 87, goes swimming every day. In reference to above example, how defining relative clause is different from non-defining relative clause?
Dear Kirk sir, I have gone through many different examples and explanation again and again, and I am finally able to understand the difference between them. Thank You.
Sir, I am not able to understand the following paragraph, especially the second sentence. “Non-defining relative clauses give us extra information about someone or something. It isn't essential for understanding who or what we are talking about.” I am not able to differentiate between the meaning of defining relative clause and non-defining relative clause. If you could provide some extra information, it would be really helpful.
The grammar explanation said : "However, when we use which without a preposition, we can't use where or when". But in this exercise the correct answer is: Winter, where temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall". In these sentences I do not see a preposition.

Hello vsalmeron,

I think you've misunderstood the explanation here.

We can use where or when to replace which when which is used with certain prepositions. However, when which is used without a preposition it cannot be replaced with where or when.

 

In your example where is used. You could use which with a preposition instead:

Winter, where temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall.

Winter, during which temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall.

Winter, in which temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I liked this lesson in which have got loads of new thing I can use to help my speaking skill. If could you tell me how had made this sentence ? The assistant that helped me was so kind. Why have used helped or was this sentence because of already has been used past verb.

Hello Karan Narang,

'helped' is a simple past verb that refers to a past finished action here. The person who said this could, for example, be referring to yesterday or last week.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Could you explain for me? I'm getting confused why this sentence uses which instead of where Vinh Long, which I visited recently, has grown to a very rich city over the pattern years. Thank you.

Hello hanluna,

The verb visit takes a direct object.

Which is a relative pronoun and can be an object.

Where is a relative adverb and cannot be an object.

 

If you use a different verb, then it is possible to use where. For example:

Vinh Long, where I live, has grown to a very rich city over the pattern years.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Just wanted to say thank you so much for this very helpful lesson about non-defining relative clauses, it helped a lot, as well as test! Keep doing amazing job!
Hello, Could you help me please? Why is it wrong to say?: "Winter, whose temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall."

Hello Iago Liasch,

I don't see anything wrong with that sentence grammatically. It may be more common to say when instead of whose, but whose is not wrong here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Could you help understand who is the referent of 'which' in the following sentence? 'Key populations are distinct from vulnerable populations, which are subject to societal pressures or social circumstances that may make them more vulnerable to exposure to infections. Thank you

Hello AlessD,

'Which' in this sentence refers to 'vulnerable populations'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

please tell is if this a defining or a non defining relative clause because i am very confused about punctuation.should i put comma or not ? "The people, who choose their life partners on their own, believe that they will be happier and more satisfied." thx

Hello Ambreen Safdar,

Although I can imagine a context in which it might be non-defining, I think it is most likely to be defining. The purpose of the clause is to identify which people you are talking about (this group of people not the others), rather than simply to provide extra information about a previously identified group.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sirs, If I want to use 'which' instead of 'when' in the sentence in Grammar Test 1: "The party's at the weekend, when more people can come", can I modify the sentence in these ways: 1) The party's at the weekend, at which more people can come. 2) The party's at the weekend, which allow more people to come (comment on the main clause instead of 'weekend') Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93,

The second sentence is almost correct. You need to say allows rather than allow as it is present simple third person.

 

The first sentence is not correct. You need to add the word time:

The party's at the weekend, at which time more people can come.

However, this is a rather formal was to express it. The version with when is far more natural.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello there, it is said that: when we use which without a preposition, we can't use where or when. so I wonder why in the following sentences, they used : I sometimes go and study in my local park, "where" I can get some fresh air. there is no preposition here, why they used (where)? ! or Winter, "when" temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall. here there is no preposition nither, whey do they use when? in fact, the grammar point i.e. when we use which without a preposition, we can't use where or when. makes me so confused. I would very much appreciate it should you explain it a bit. Many thanks

Hello MaryPoury,

When you have a sentence with the relative pronoun which and a preposition (e.g. in which, on which, etc) it is often possible to use the relative adverbs when or where instead. If you use when or where then you do not need a preposition.

In your sentences you use the relative adverbs when and where and so no preposition is needed. If you use the relative pronoun which instead then you need to add a preposition:

I sometimes go and study in my local park, where I can get some fresh air. [relative adverb; no preposition needed]

 

I sometimes go and study in my local park, in which I can get some fresh air. [relative pronoun with a preposition]

 

Winter, when temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall. [relative adverb; no preposition needed]

Winter, during which temperatures are lower, sees higher rainfall. [relative pronoun with a preposition]

 

When we use which with no preposition, we cannot replace it with when or where:

I stayed in a hotel in the centre, which was very expensive. [no preposition here, so we can't replace which with where]

 

I stayed in a hotel in the centre, in which there was a sauna and a nice gym. [we have a preposition so we can replace which with where]

I stayed in a hotel in the centre, where there was a sauna and a nice gym.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, dear teacher. There aren't all the english grammars, and there is no grammars for advanced english grammars. We need more english grammar lessons because these grammars are not enough, so what should we do? But I appreciate the owner of this site because there we have enough chance to ask our questions. The owners of the site should have mentioned some sites for those, who want to pass TOEFL exam, as mentionded a link for IELTS learners. Best regards!

Hello Ali Reza

We plan to create an Advanced grammar at some point, but I'm afraid it's going to be quite some time before we have it ready. In the meantime, the Grammar Reference has advanced points on many pages.

There are also other free resources on the internet, e.g. the Cambridge Dictionary, where you can find quite a lot of material.

Since the TOEFL isn't used by British institutions, we do not plan to create any resources for it. In addition to TakeIELTS, be sure to check out our FutureLearn courses.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Is there any diffirence between meaning of these two Noun Clauses? #1 I don't know if you are satisfied. #2 I don't know wheter you are satisfied or not.

Hello Ali Reza

These two sentences have the same meaning.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Teachers, Can non-defining relative clauses be reduced like defining clauses do (that is, 'be' + adjective phrase/prepositional phrase/participle can be reduced) ? For example: 1) Her son, a dentist, lives in New York. 2) The Trumps. living in New York, arrived at my home yesterday 3) The building, going to be opened by the queen, cost over 5 million pounds Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93

Non-defining relative clauses are not reduced like defining clauses are, so, for example, sentences 2 and 3 are not correct. 1 is correct, though it's not a case of a reduced non-defining clause -- instead it is an example of apposition.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teachers, please tell me why in the second sentence, in the exercises, : "The building, which is going to be opened by the queen, cost over 5 million pounds" there is "cost" instead of "costs"?