How to use relative clauses

RELATIVE CLAUSES

 

The topic of this English lesson is relative clauses.

Many English students have difficulties in using relative clauses, so today, I will go through the types of relative clauses and their use.

how to use relative clauses?

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WHAT IS A RELATIVE CLAUSE?

 

A relative clause is a clause beginning with question words that is often used to modify nouns and some pronouns. It is used to identify people and things, or to give more information about them.

 It is usually introduced by a relative pronoun like who or which.

Do you know the guy who just walked past us?

There’s a movie playing in the cinema which you might like.

 

  • There are two types of relative clauses: non-restrictive or non-defining relative clauses and restrictive or defining relative clauses.

 


RESTRICTIVE RELATIVE CLAUSES

Restrictive relative clause is a relative clause which identifies a noun and provides essential information about the noun to which it refers. It cannot be left out of the sentence without affecting the meaning of the sentence.

I met the girl who tried to steal your purse.

 

Here you cannot leave out the relative clause because the sentence would not make sense.

I met the girl. – Which girl? Something is missing.

 

  • We use who for a person and which for something not human such as a thing, an action, or an idea.

The girl who tried to steal your purse was arrested.

It was a problem which gave me a headache.

 

  • Who and which can go both with plural and singular nouns

 

  • We can also use that with any noun.

The girl that tried to steal your purse was arrested.

 

  • With people, who is more usual than that in writing, but both are used in conversation.

It was a problem that gave me a headache.

 

  •  With other nouns, both which and that are possible, but which can be a little formal.

 

  • That is more usual than which after a quantifier or pronoun.

There was little that could be done to help the victims.

 

  • The relative pronoun can be the subject or the object of the clause.

Don’t take for granted people who love you the most. (They love you the most.) – subject of the clause

He’s the same actor that I saw at the theatre. (I saw him at the theatre.) – object of the clause

 

  • We often leave out an object relative pronoun. We cannot leave out the pronoun if it is the subject of the clause.

He’s the same actor I saw at the theatre.

 

  • We can use whom as an object pronoun, but this use is formal and rather old-fashioned. In everyday speech we usually use that, or leave out the pronoun.

I met an old friend that I hadn’t seen for years.

I met an old friend I hadn’t seen for years.


NON-RESTRICTIVE RELATIVE CLAUSES

 

Non-restrictive relative clause is a relative clause which does not identify the noun it refers to because we already know which person or thing is meant. It provides information that can be left out without affecting the meaning or structure of the sentence.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who won an Oscar last year, stars in a new movie by Quentin Tarantino.

 

  • Here you can leave out the relative clause and the rest of the sentence has perfect sense.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in a new movie by Quentin Tarantino.

 

  • A non-restrictive relative clause is separated from the main clause, usually with commas. But, you can also use dashes or brackets.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who won an Oscar last year, stars in a new movie by Quentin Tarantino.

Leonardo DiCaprio - who won an Oscar last year - stars in a new movie by Quentin Tarantino.

Leonardo DiCaprio (who won an Oscar last year) stars in a new movie by Quentin Tarantino.

  • In a non-restrictive relative clause we use who, whom, whose or which, but we do not normally use that.

 

  • The relative pronoun cannot be left out from a non-restrictive relative clause.

 

  • Which can relate to a whole clause, not just to a noun.

He broke up with her again, which doesn’t surprise me.

(The fact that he broke up with her again doesn’t surprise me.)

 

English Grammar, Relative clauses

To sum up the most important information about relative clauses:

In restrictive relative clauses, you can leave out the relative pronoun if it is the object of the sentence.

·Non-restrictive relative clauses are separated from the main clause by a comma.

 In non-restrictive relative clauses, you cannot leave out the relative pronoun.

That is not normally used in non-restrictive relative clauses.