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 (66 votes)
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Hi Tokhish,

They are both grammatically correct. Generally, as relative pronouns they are interchangeable. However, only "that" (not "which") can substitute for "who". Also, "which" is slightly more formal-sounding than "that", but it's not a huge difference.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

I have a comma question with WHICH
Is a comma necessary before WHICH in this sentence? Why or Why not?

The Women's Basic Coat comes in our most traditional fabric which is 100% polyester.

Thanks for your help!

Hello teacher1.unifae,

This looks like a non-defining clause to me -- it doesn't seem to be essential to identifying which fabric is being talked about. In other words, there is only one 'our most traditional fabric'. This fabric is 100% polyester. So yes, a comma is needed.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by mon_mon on Mon, 24/04/2023 - 23:34

Permalink

Good evening
My question is: is there a correct order to be followed, when, in a defining sentence, two actions refer to same subject and happen simulteneously?
Example:
"The girl didn't look both sides of the street. She was texting"

Are both options correct?

'The girl who didn't look both ways of the street was texting'
'The girl who was texting didn't look both sides of the street'

Thanks in advance

Hello mon_mon,

Both are grammatically fine. Your choice depends on which action you see as the background event, so to speak, and which as the main or most interesting action - the background event is in the relative clause and the main action is in the main clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by Gracy on Mon, 17/04/2023 - 07:18

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Hi,
Why did “ that that” use in the following sentence? Could you please explain?
That that may win him a bit more support from Asian neighbours like Thailand and China, which are less squeamish about his barbaric methods.
Thanks.

Hello Gracy,

I'm afraid it's impossible to say without knowing the context, especially what was said before this.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

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,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team