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 CeCe99 on Tue, 25/10/2022 - 06:26


Dear teachers,
Could you assist with below sentences:
1. Did everyone taking (who took) the trip get sick?
2. It would reduce the rate of traffic accidents occurring (which occurs) every day?
Are these reduced relative clauses correct or should I keep them unreduced?
Thank you.

Hello CeCe99,

Yes, those are correct. If it were me writing, I would keep them unreduced, but I'm afraid I don't have a logical explanation -- it's my stylistic preference.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by melvinthio on Tue, 04/10/2022 - 05:56


Hi Jonathan, I would like to ask for your help for my following questions.
I've seen these sentences from English teaching examples :
[A] The man wanting coffee is over there (= who wants...).

[B] The girl living next door works at a bank (= who lives...).

[1] Are the above sentences grammatically correct ?

[2] As far as I know, if the subject of a sentence refers to someone or something definite (a particular person, thing, etc) like the above sentences, the present participle clause (-ing form) usually only has a progressive meaning.
Is my assumption right ?

[2] Based on the sentences above, are the following sentences grammatically correct, using definite subjects with non-progressive meanings ?

C) The workers understanding the rules didn't protest (= who understood...).

D) The student having the best mark is awarded (=who has....)

I would be grateful if you could help me with your clear explanation.

Best regards,

Hello melvinthio,

1. Sentences A and B are a bit awkward, but are grammatically correct.

2. A non-progressive meaning is also possible. For example, in a sentence like 'Anyone speaking without permission will be punished', 'speaking' = 'who speaks'.

3. Yes, C and D are correct, though in general I'd recommend using the relative clauses ('who understood', 'who has').

Hope this helps.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Good day sir. May I jump in and ask:
2. When is a non-progressive meaning possible since sometimes there are awkward sentences when reduced adjective clauses are used?
3. Would you say we should use relative clauses in C and D because this usage is unnatural though correct or they may confuse readers with the tenses being used?
Thank you for your help.

Hello CeCe99,

2. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with any simple explanation of this. This is not to say that such an explanation doesn't exist, but rather that I don't know of one. It's also important to consider the communicative context, as this influences the most appropriate forms and the meanings they are meant to carry.

3. It's a question of style, i.e. yes, they sound a little unnatural to me. I don't think proficient speakers would be confused by the tenses -- though again, this depends on the context.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


Submitted by melvinthio on Wed, 17/08/2022 - 10:44


Hi Jonathan,
Are my following interpretations correct ?

[1] Those parents of the students who are protesting against the school policy are called by the principal (this means the parents who are protesting).

[2] The parents of those students who are protesting against the school policy are called by the principal (this means the students who are protesting).

I'd appreciate your help whether my above interpretations are right.

Best regards,

Hi melvinthio,

Yes, I agree with your interpretations. In [1], it doesn't make sense to say "Those" unless the speaker means that the parents are protesting, and the reverse is true in [2].

However, in my view the part in sentence [1] where it says "the students who are protesting" could easily be misunderstood. Rewording [1] would make the intended meaning clearer, e.g., "The students' parents who are protesting ..." or perhaps simply "Those parents who are protesting ..." (if the rest of the text can make clear that "parents" here refers to the parents of the students in question).

I hope that helps.


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Victoria7 on Thu, 28/07/2022 - 21:24


Good afternoon, I'm struggling with these pair of sentences because I don't understand why we should use which and where respectively:
1. We went to a shop which I never want to go back to.
2. We went to a shop where a latte cost 3 dollars.
I know the difference between each relative but I can't make them fit into these sentences. Thank you in advance!!

Hi Victoria7,

You actually have two different items here. Which (plus who, whose and that) is a relative pronoun. Where (plus why and when) is a relative adverb.

Both relative pronouns and relative adverbs introduce relative clauses, which function like adjectives to add extra information about a noun or noun phrase. However, grammatically they are a little different in terms of how we use them.

Relative pronouns stand for nouns or noun phrases. In your first sentence the relative pronoun 'which' stands for 'a shop'. Just as you need to say 'to a shop' you need to say 'to which', and this is why you have 'to' at the end of that sentence. You could also put the 'to' before the relative pronoun (We went to a shop to which I never want to go back), but this makes the sentence extremely formal.

Relative adverbs give extra information about the noun or noun phrase. There is no need to use 'to' here, just as we don't need to use 'to' when we use 'where'.


You can replace a relative adverb with a relative pronouns plus a preposition (where > to which, in which, at which etc depending on the context; when > during which, before which, after which etc)




The LearnEnglish Team