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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Submitted by Rafaela1 on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 14:02

Thank you for the grammar explanation!

Submitted by NoobsDeath on Wed, 17/06/2020 - 17:03

Hi, hope you can explain to me these questions: Why can the word"that" in a sentence replace all the relative pronoun? Just like this: It is June that we got married. 2. Could you give me some feedback for the essay I wrote on the link below? Just consider the type of graph and the figures right: xxxxxxxxxxx But if there is so much inability, just tell me. But if you could, please do it. 3. For the last question, this one could be very confusing to you but I still ask: Is the sentence below incorrect and why? ( because I think the form "going" can be " who are going" while it is possible to say we who are) We going there right now.

Hello NoobsDeath,

I'm not sure why a language works in the way it does is a question that has an answer. Languages evolve and develop their rules and systems over time; there is no planned purpose which would imply a reason for a particular rule. It is as it is, simply.

Note that we can use that to replace the relative pronouns which and who, not whose and not the relative adverbs where and when. We also do not use that in non-defining relative clauses.


I'm afraid we don't offer a proofreading or correction service on LearnEnglish. We're a small team and it's just not possible for us to do this. We focus on explaining difficult areas of English and offering advice to learners.


The sentence you quote in your third question is incorrect. You need to include the auxiliary verb be when forming the present continuous and not only use the -ing form:

We are going there right now.



The LearnEnglish Team

About your third question. Even if 'We going there right now' was used as a noun phrase, it's still incorrect. Because the 'we' are definite, meaning it can't be restricted in any ways. So, you have to use the unrestrictive usage of a relative clause. And in addition, personal pronouns can't be restricted, so there can't be any modifiers in the back of them. (Helping you as a neighbor country citizen. I hope the relationship between South Korea and Japan gets better. It's detrimental to both of us.)

Submitted by Lal on Tue, 16/06/2020 - 09:07

Hello Sir This is the video that I wanted to show you. In the above sentence can I use 'which' instead of 'that' Please let me know Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

Yes, both which and that are possible here. It's also possible to omit the relative pronoun entirely.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by claudiaxxx on Sun, 14/06/2020 - 11:26

Hello, I have a question. In the sentence "He visited his uncle who often lent him money" -who often lent him money' is the relative clause. But which Syntactic Function (sub,obj,adv,compl,pred) does it have? I'm between an Adverbial and an Object, I'm not sure. kind regards

Hello claudiaxxx

There are different terms out there, but I'd say that it's an object predicative -- it modifies the object 'his uncle'.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, please if you can solve for me this exercise. Thanks in advance. Write a new sentence as similar as possible in meaning to the original sentence. Use the words given in bold letters. 1. You look awful. Have you been unwell . As though ____________________________________________________ 2. Unfortunately he was driving very fast. If only __________________________________________________ 3. We really ought to pay the bill now . It’s time ______________________________________________________ 4.Taking the later flight would be preferable for me . Would sooner_____________________________________________________

Submitted by Tenzin Thinley on Wed, 10/06/2020 - 15:30

Hello Respected Sir/Madame, Can I omit all the relative pronouns in defining relative clause. Please answer these. It is very important. On your online content. It says that we can omit (who, whom and that) when they are object of defining relative clause. Then what about other relative pronoun like "where and when". Can we omit these and any other relative pronoun. I really need your help . Yours sincerely Tenzin Thinley