Relative clauses – defining relative clauses

Do you know how to define who or what you are talking about using relative clauses?

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

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Submitted by haovivu128 on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 10:31

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Hello sirs, Could you help me correct them? Thank you in advance. Defining relative clauses: *0 = no relative pronoun. 1. who (subject): That's the man who/that teaches me Math subject at the school. 2. who/whom (object): The man who/whom/that/0 I admire the most is my father. 3. which (subject): The books which/that are the bestsellers over the world are the “Harry Potter” Novels. 4. which (object): Where are the tickets which/that/0 I bought yesterday? 5. whose (human): That’s Justin whose sister works at the office with me. 6. whose (animals; things): These are rooms whose equipments are used for the particular activities. 7. where (places): The place where we got married is Notre Dame Catheldral Church. 8. when (times): We’re going to remember the moments when we stayed together.

Hi haovivu128,

You did a good job :) The relative pronouns and relative clauses are correct. But I do have a few other corrections:

  • 1: instead of 'Math subject', it should just be 'Math' (or 'Maths').
  • 3: It should be 'bestsellers', without 'the' before it.
  • 6: 'equipment' should be uncountable, not countable (so the verb should be 'is', not 'are').

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by BobMux on Tue, 20/04/2021 - 16:44

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Hello the LearnEnglish Theam, Could you please help me understand defining relative clause better. Here is the sentence: A substance in the tank which is used by the farmers ... Is the tank used by farmers or is the tank?

Hello BobMux,

It's not clear in this case whether the farmers use the substance or the tank. Usually the context will make it clear, but sometimes you have to ask for more information to know for sure.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk, Your explanations are always clear and easy to understand.

Submitted by Quynh Nhu on Sat, 27/03/2021 - 00:40

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Can you tell me the difference in the grammar between these two sentences: I can't remember who told me I can't remember the person who told me. In what cases "who" can stand alone (don't need a noun before it) Thank you

Hi Quynh Nhu,

It depends on which structures can go with the verb. The verb here is remember, and remember can be followed by a question word (as in your sentence 1) or a noun phrase (as in your sentence 2). It can be followed other structures as well, e.g. a that clause and an -ing verb - see this Cambridge Dictionary page for examples.

Other verbs may have different structures. With meet, for example, it's possible to say I would like to meet the person who helped me but not I would like to meet who helped me.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ayman hijazin on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 15:27

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Good evening LearnEnglish team, I'd like to know your answer to this question about relative clauses, fill it and explain your answer please. Salma handed her glasses, ________ were broken, to her PE teacher. All the best, Ayman

Hello ayman hijazin,

I'm afraid we don't provide answers to questions and tasks from elsewhere. We're happy to provide explanations of how the language works and to explain our own materials, of course. If we answered questions like this we'd soon end up doing users' homework and tests for them, which isn't really our role!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by aymanme2 on Thu, 04/03/2021 - 19:52

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Hello, sirs I'd like to know your answer to this question, please. The employer ___I work for is a successful organisation. a) who b) that c) whom I see 'THAT' is the best option here. Yet, what about the other ones, especially I read somewhere that we can use 'who' with nouns like 'factory , company ......'

Hello aymanme2,

Both 'that' and 'who' are possible in this sentence. I wouldn't say either is better; both are fine. As you say, we can use 'who' for things which we see as comprised of people: companies, organisations, teams, nations etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your response, sir. What about 'whom'? Could it work as an object, too?

Submitted by BobMux on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 04:56

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, I would be greatful if you could help me with the sentence below; Germans are good at dealing with time-management, wich is often spoken and adviced to have by motivators and most successful people, which i really want to get I think that in this sentence both non-defining (which is often spoken and.....) and defining (which i really want to get) relative clauses are used. Actually, Is it possible to use both clauses( defining and non-defining) in a single sentence?

Hello BobMux,

To be honest, I'm not completely sure if it's possible to use both sorts of relative clauses in the same sentence. What I can say with confidence is that I wouldn't recommend it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sisi on Fri, 19/02/2021 - 16:52

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Hello, can you explain me why in the sentence: They ate at a restaurant ___ serves only vegan dishes. We can't put Where? Because we are talking about a place

Hello sisi,

You need to use a pronoun in the gap as it is the subject of the verb 'serves'. 'Which' is a pronoun, but 'where' is actually an adverb. If you use 'where' then you need to add a subject after it:

They ate at a restaurant which serves only vegan dishes.

They ate at a restaurant where they serve only vegan dishes.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Olli T. on Sat, 30/01/2021 - 10:03

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Good morning LearnEnglish team, Is there any fixed rule concerning the position of participle adjectives, i.e. whether they are placed before or after a noun? Take the term "1kg of fish caught", for example - is the postponed position of the adjective "caught" (as a reduced relative) binding, acc. to English grammar rules, or is it just formal style and the term "1kg of caught fish" would also be fine? The only source I found is "Advanced Grammar in Use" from Cambridge University Press, Unit 69 (B) regarding "participle adjectives and compound adjective, e.s". The author gives examples of such adjectives - some of them are typically found directly before the noun, others are usually go directly behind the noun, and the third group of adjectives may be placed before or after the noun. Many thanks in advance for your assistance.

Submitted by Gab07 on Wed, 27/01/2021 - 18:11

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Hello, I study relatives clauses in my English course and I don't know where I put commas and my sentences aren't correct "my brother is dating Mary who I can’t handle" "the people he works for no longer live in Belgium" "the house which is on the corner of the street is wonderful "The girls who tom goes out with is very beautiful

Hello Gab07,

Non-defining relative clauses have commas before the relative clause, while defining relative clauses do not. Thus, the key is to indentify if your sentence is a defining relative clause or a non-defining relative clause:

relative pronouns and relative clauses

> defining relative clauses

> non-defining relative clauses

 

In brief, if the relative clause identifies the noun and is necessary for the sentence to make sense, it is a defining relative clause. If the relative clause simply provides additional but not essential information, it is a non-defining relative clause.

 

For example:

"my brother is dating Mary, who I can’t handle"

the relative clause does not tell us anything essential to identifying Mary - it does not tell us 'this Mary and not the other Mary - so it is a non-defining relative clause and a comma is used.


"the people he works for no longer live in Belgium"

Here, the relative clause gives us essential information. It tells us which people you are talking about. Without the relative clause the sentence would make no sense as it would refer to all people or people in general.

 

I hope that helps. We don't provide answers for tasks from elsewhere, so I'm not going to give you the answers to all of the questions. The explanation should help you work out the others for your self, I hope. Good luck!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Maryami123 on Wed, 09/12/2020 - 19:34

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Hi I had a question, could we only omit which, that and who or could we also leave out whose and when? Thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 10/12/2020 - 07:58

In reply to by Maryami123

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Hello Maryami123,

No, we do not omit whose, where and when from relative clauses.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yigitcan on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 19:15

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Hello team, I am confused about this sentence '' I love this film. It's a classic romantic-comedy where two heroes end up failing in love and getting togather after some problems, of course.'' Why we use '' where'' clause? Romantic-comedy isn't place.

Hi Yigitcan,

Actually, we can use where figuratively, to refer to something which can be imagined as a space containing other things. In this example, the romantic comedy film contains characters and story events. We often use where like this to refer to situations, processes and stories. There are more examples on this page in the Cambridge Dictionary.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you teacher also In this sentence;can we use ''which'' instead of ''where''?

Hi Yigitcan,

Yes! Instead of where, you can use which, but it must be together with in

  • It's a classic romantic comedy in which two heroes end up failing in love ...

That's because the clause (two heroes end up failing in love) is an action/event that happens in (i.e. inside) the romantic comedy. The clause doesn't describe the romantic comedy (as in, for example: It's a classic romantic comedy which has two heroes).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nbu2316 on Sun, 08/11/2020 - 20:07

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Hello! I'm not sure whether I'm right here but there is one thing I always come across which makes me struggle. For the context: For my current study I have to analyze a sample of academic text and extract all relative clauses I can find with regard to a classification table by Roland et al. (2007). In most cases, this is not hard, but then there are sentences (as follow) that confuse me: "The contexts in which the utterances were produced will also be an influential factor with different conversations possibly dictating specific language, relevant to the task being carried out, to the speakers" Here, I think to have two different relative clauses: 1) in which the utterances were produced (a full passive relative clause defining the subject of the main clause), and 2) being carried out (a reduced passive relative clause defining 'the task') While the first case seems to be very clear and simple, I am not sure about the second one as in the results of another analysis, these kind of sentences were regarded as non-relative clauses. Therefore, I would like to ask if defining clauses such as the second example above belong to the category of relative clauses or not. Note: According to Roland et al. (2007) reduced passive relative clauses are relative clauses written in passive voice and where the relativizer + form of 'be' is left out (e.g. This is the dog which was attacked by the cat. -> This is the dog attacked by the cat.). I THANK YOU SO MUCH in advance for your help. Kind regards, Nehir

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 10/11/2020 - 07:47

In reply to by nbu2316

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Hello Nehir,

As you say, I think the first one is clear here: it is a relative clause headed by a relative pronoun introduced by a preposition (in which); you could instead use the relative adverb where, though stylistically this would be less suitable.

 

The second example is also a relative clause, but is reduced. The full (non-reduced) form would be as follows:

...relevant to the task which was being carried out, to the speakers...

I think the other way this could be seen is as a participle clause. However, participle clauses have an adverbial function rather than adjectival, and in your sentence the function is clearly adjectival.

You can read more about participle clauses on this page:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/participle-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Zamra on Sat, 07/11/2020 - 16:04

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Hello .please tell me the exact difference between using 'which/that' I get confused while using these

Hello Zamra,

You can use both that and which in defining relative clauses.

In non-defining relative clauses that cannot be used.

As far as meaning goes, that can refer to people or things. Which can only refer to things. Other than that, the two are interchangeable. That is more common in spoken English.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abo omar on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 20:09

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hello "this is the house whose entrance is guarded" using the relative clause whose with house is correct or which as house is inanimate

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 07:34

In reply to by abo omar

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Hello abo omar,

It's perfectly fine to use whose with things as well as people, so your sentence is correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nathalie jo on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 01:21

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Hello, please help me with these two sentences. 1. Joe is the best boy (that/who) won a prize. 2. Fortunately, I found the mobile (I had lost/ that I had lost) Thank you!

Submitted by Kareninoiso on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 04:59

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Why is “The place where I want to visit is Paris” incorrect? I need to explain to a student

Hello Kareninoiso,

We don't normally use a relative clause beginning with 'where' after the word 'place' -- instead we use 'that' or just omit the relative pronoun: 'The place I want to visit is Paris'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 01:00

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Hello, here the questions for assignment, the number of question do not match with the number of carrying marks

Hi Emmanuel,

Yes, that's right! You may need to mark more than one answer for each question (it may not have just one answer). 

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hn0062 on Thu, 24/09/2020 - 20:08

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the car that I have is from Renault company and I love it.

Submitted by ldiass on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 20:05

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Hello, I would like to know if, in the following sentence, the relative pronoun can be omitted after "the one", or it can't. The conference held in China, the one that approved the world trade agreement drawn up by European and Asian states, has now ended. Because, in my comprehension, although it is the subject of the clause, "the one" will act as a subject too. Thank you,

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 10:02

In reply to by ldiass

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Hello Idiass,

No, the relative pronoun cannot be omitted in that sentence.

There are several phrases like the one that: many that, some that, all that, none that etc. They do not act as additional subjects but rather simply modify the relative pronoun.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nure Alam on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 09:00

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is it that the same form of relative clause is for singular and plural nouns or pronouns?

Hi Nure Alam,

Good question. Yes, it's the same form. But, as in ordinary sentences, the verb needs to agree with the subject (whether it is singular or plural). For example:

  • The woman who lives next door works in a bank. 
  • The women who live next door work in a bank.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Reemtb on Sat, 05/09/2020 - 22:10

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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!!

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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