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.

who/that

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.

which/that 

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 (57 votes)
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Submitted by kate_d on Tue, 28/11/2023 - 08:19

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Hello,

Could you please explain to me why we have "have sold" instead of "have been sold" in the sentence "He's a musician whose albums have sold millions.

Thank you in advance!

Hello kate_d,

'sell' is a verb that can be used ergatively, which basically means that when it is used intransitively, it has a passive meaning. You can read more about this and see a list of other similar verbs on our Ergative verbs page.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask us on that page.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Zozary on Mon, 20/11/2023 - 13:31

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I have a question about changing a/an to the in some relative clauses.

eg. Our principal wants to see an architect. He designed our school library.
ans. Our principal wants to see "the" architect who designed our school library.

why we need to convert the "an" to "the"?

eg. I met an old lady. She was one hundred and two years old.
ans. I met "an" old lady who was one hundred and two years old.

why we do not need to convert that "an" to "the"

there are more eg for not converting the "a/an" to "the"
-There was a one-year guarantee which came with the TV.
-He is a musician whose albums have sold millions.
-He called a plumber who he found online.
-They ate at a restaurant that serves only vegan dishes.
-We found a shop that sold old records.

why?

Hi Zozary,

Using "the" normally means that the speaker thinks the listener knows which particular thing he/she is referring to. Often, this is because there is only one of that thing existing in that local context.

  • Our principal wants to see the architect who designed our school library. (The listener knows which person this refers to, because only one person was the designer of the library. There is only one possible person that the sentence refers to.)

If you say this:

  • I met the old lady who was one hundred and two years old.

It means that there is only one old lady of that age in this local context, and both the speaker and listener know that. Maybe she is a famous old lady in that town, for example. The sentence is grammatically fine. However, in ordinary circumstances, we probably do not know for sure that there is only one lady of that age, and the speaker probably cannot assume that the listener knows who the old lady is. So, it's more likely to say:

  • I met an old lady who was one hundred and two years old. (There may be other ladies of the same age; the speaker does not assume that listener knows which lady it is)

Often, when the speaker mentions something for the first time in the conversation, the speaker will use "a/an" if he/she introduces some new information (e.g., "I met an old lady" - it's a new conversation topic) and the speaker thinks the listener doesn't know which exact person/thing it refers to.

About your other examples:

  • There was a one-year guarantee which came with the TV. (It seems like newly-introduced information; the listener does not know which guarantee it refers to)
  • He is a musician whose albums have sold millions. (He is not the only one; apart from him, other musicians have also sold millions)
  • He called a plumber who he found online. (This plumber is not the only one who can be contacted online; so the listener does not know which exact plumber it refers to)
  • They ate at a restaurant that serves only vegan dishes. (This restaurant is not the only one that serves vegan dishes; so the listener does not know which exact restaurant it refers to)
  • We found a shop that sold old records. (This shop is not the only one that sells old records; so the listener does not know which exact shop it refers to.)

Again, you could use "the" in any of these sentences, if there is only one thing in that context (e.g. We found the shop that sold old records - if there is only one shop selling old records in that town) and you assume that the listener knows this too.

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

So, we can use either "a/an" or "the" in the above sentences.

The only difference is that using either of them depends upon whether the listener gets exactly what the speaker is trying to mention which or not.

When both the speaker and the listener get what they are talking about, we use "the".
If not, we use "a/an".

That problem has been in my mind like forever.

Thank you for clearing that one problem in my mind. I really appreciate your help, Sir.

Zozary

Submitted by thebaongoc on Thu, 19/10/2023 - 13:45

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''the restaurant .... we often go to overlooks a beautiful lake''
-which
- where
What should I choose? and why I should use it

Hello thebaongoc,

The correct answer here is 'which' because you have the preposition 'to' in the sentence. We can say 'to which' but not 'to where'.

If you remove 'to' then 'where' is possible:

the restaurant which we often go to overlooks a beautiful lake

the restaurant where we often go overlooks a beautiful lake

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ali_H_Ahmad001 on Wed, 04/10/2023 - 12:36

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They ate at a restaurant ___ serves only vegan dishes.
that
where
which

Why "where" is wrong. We refer to a place actually!

Hi Ali_H_Ahmad001,

We do use "where" to refer to a place, but it introduces a clause (i.e., a subject and a verb). So, if you want to use "where" in this sentence, it should be:

  • They ate at a restaurant where they serve only vegan dishes. (where + subject + verb)

We can also think of a restaurant (or any other place) as a thing, so it's also correct to say:

  • They ate at a restaurant that/which serves only vegan dishes. (that/which + verb)

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team