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 (70 votes)
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Submitted by Reemtb on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 22:10

Hello teachers I have a question, if you don’t mind. The strawberries that were being eaten at the wedding last night were grown in Scotland ). My question is, which one is the correct structure to reduce relative clauses. The strawberries being eaten at the wedding last night were grown in Scotland. Or The strawberries eaten at the wedding last night were grown in Scotland. Thank you in advance.

Hello Reemtb,

You can use either form here, but there is a difference in meaning. If you use the continuous form (being eaten) then you are describing a moment at which the action was in progress; the strawberries still existed.

If you use the simple form (eaten) then we understand that you are talking about strawberries which no longer exist; the action is complete; the fruit is in the guests' stomachs.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reemtb on Sat, 29/08/2020 - 22:02

Hello Mr. I have a question. Can infinitive replace relative clause when the verb is present perfect or just with past simple and present simple? For example, The only person who has seen her recently is Martin. Can I say, The only person to see her recently is Martin. Or just with simple past and simple present!!
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 08:53

In reply to by Reemtb


Hello Reembt,

It's quite possible to use the infinitive in this way. The adverb recently provides the context required for the meaning to be clear.



The LearnEnglish Team

Could you correct this sentence if it is wrong? She is the youngest player to be honoured. Is this sentence correct?

Hello Reemtb,

In a context where it's clear what she is honoured for, yes, that looks correct to me.

All the best,


The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Karan Narang on Mon, 27/07/2020 - 15:27

Could you explain it for me. The assistant that we met was really kind. And 2nd The assistant that helped us was really kind. Now I have got doubt with both sentence, In both sentence used 2nd form of verb is met or helped after ward put was. why did put was, it difficult to understand for me because already have used past form then why did need to put "was" these sentence. Could you more specific with these sentence ?
Hi Karan Narang, I'll try to explain. The sentence structure is: - X was really kind. X is the subject, and 'was' is the verb. X can be just a noun (e.g. 'The assistant'). But in your examples, there are relative clauses too ('The assistant that we met' and 'The assistant that helped us'). These have verbs in them ('met' and 'helped'), but the verbs are just adding some description to the subject. They are a part of the subject (i.e. part of a noun phrase). They aren't the main verb in the sentence. That's why 'was' is needed. Otherwise, the sentences don't have a main verb. 'Was' is in the past simple because it refers to the same time as meeting the assistant or helping us. Both of these were in the past simple in your examples. Does that make sense? Jonathan The LearnEnglish Team