Relative clauses: non-defining relative clauses

Relative clauses: non-defining relative clauses

Do you know how to give extra information about someone or something using relative clauses? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how non-defining relative clauses are used.

Jack, who's retired now, spends a lot of time with his grandchildren.
We want to see the new Tom Carter film, which was released on Friday.
My sister, whose dog I'm looking after, is visiting a friend in Australia.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1–B2: Relative clauses – non-defining relative clauses: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Relative clauses give us information about the person or thing mentioned.

Non-defining relative clauses give us extra information about someone or something. It isn't essential for understanding who or what we are talking about.

My grandfatherwho's 87, goes swimming every day.
The house, which was built in 1883, has just been opened to the public.
The award was given to Sara, whose short story impressed the judges

We always use a relative pronoun or adverb to start a non-defining relative clause: who, which, whose, when or where (but not that). We also use commas to separate the clause from the rest of the sentence.

who, which and whose

We can use who to talk about people, which to talk about things and whose to refer to the person or thing that something belongs to.

Yesterday I met my new boss, who was very nice.
The house, which is very big, is also very cold!
My next-door neighbour, whose children go to school with ours, has just bought a new car.
After the port there is a row of fishermen's houses, whose lights can be seen from across the bay.

Places and times

We can use which with a preposition to talk about places and times. In these cases it's more common to use where or when instead of which and the preposition.

City Park, which we used to go to, has been closed down.
City Park, where we used to go, has been closed down.
December, which Christmas is celebrated in, is a summer month for the southern hemisphere.
December, when Christmas is celebrated, is a summer month for the southern hemisphere.

However, when we use which without a preposition, we can't use where or when.

Centre Park, which we love, is always really busy on Saturdays.
February, which is my favourite month, lasts 29 days this year.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar B1–B2: Relative clauses – non-defining relative clauses: 2

 

Language level

Average: 4.1 (58 votes)
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Hi Sefika,

Yes, you can rewrite the clause as a non-defining one. It changes the meaning, however.

  • an annual foreign policy address which traditionally serves as a lament for all the world’s conflicts and injustices - with a defining relative clause, the writer sees the bold part as integral to the noun, annual foreign policy address. The main idea of the sentence is the noun foreign policy address and the bold words together.
  • an annual foreign policy address, which traditionally serves as a lament for all the world’s conflicts and injustices - with a non-defining relative clause, the writer sees the bold part as additional information, related to the main idea of the sentence but not integral to it, and therefore of secondary importance. The main idea is simply an annual foreign policy address (a less specific main idea than in the sentence with the defining relative clause).

So they are both correct, but differ in what the writer considers to be the main idea and what they consider to be additional/secondary information. I hope that helps to make sense of it.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thank you for the detailed explanation. I agree with you, but I thought that the info. in the relative clause was already definite ("an annual foreign policy address" and "traditionally ...": such an address would normally be about the world's conflicts and injustices); therefore, it could be given parenthetically, i.e., by using a non-defining relative clause instead of a defining one. The writer must have thought differently.

Submitted by Sefika on Wed, 10/01/2024 - 10:03

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Hello.
I have a question about the relative clause below:
"The pope’s remark came during an annual foreign policy address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See that* traditionally serves as a lament for all the world’s conflicts and injustices." (From a New York Times article (Jan. 8, 2024))
*At first, the relative pronoun was "which", but then they replaced it with "that", which is preferred in defining relative clauses over "which" in American English.
My question is whether that relative clause could be rewritten as a non-defining one (as in "... an address to foreign diplomats accredited to the Holy See, which traditionally serves as a lament ...")?
Thank you for your help in advance.

Submitted by JonBrook on Thu, 30/11/2023 - 19:15

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Hi thanks for your article. Is non-attributive verb the same thing as non-defining? Thanks

Hello JonBrook,

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the idea of a non-attributive verb, nor with the idea of a non-defining verb. Could you please explain them a bit more?

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Cezanne on Sun, 12/11/2023 - 00:04

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There is a problem with your online test. The first one doesn't provide the appropriate feedback. All your responses are deemed wrong, when they are all right. Seems to be a technical issue

Hello Cezanne,

Thanks for letting us know. The exercise is working fine for me now.

If it's still not working for you, could you please tell us what answers you put and what feedback you got?

Thanks again.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Florist93 on Tue, 13/06/2023 - 03:47

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Hello Sir/Madam,

We plan to go on Wednesday, subject to your approval. Is "subject to your approval" a non-definitive relative clause? If so, where is the relative pronoun? Look forward to receiving your reply soon. Thanks.

Hello Florist93,

I wouldn't call 'subject to your approval' a non-defining relative clause, but you are right in thinking that some words have been omitted.

'subject to' + noun typically functions like an adjective (e.g. 'Our outing is subject to your approval'; 'Prices are subject to change', etc.). It can also be used as in the sentence you've asked about, where it's placed at the end to indicate that the previous idea is dependent on a condition.

I would call this an instance of ellipsis. The full sentence could be understood to be something like 'We plan to go on Wednesday, [though we recognise that this is] subject to your approval.'

Does that help you make sense of it?

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team