Relative Clauses

  • relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun or a noun phrase.


The man who is smoking is the murderer.

The noun man is modified by the relative clause who is smoking

Relative clauses give essential information to define or identify the person or thing we are talking about.

  How to use relative clauses  

They are used to provide extra information. This information can either:

  • define something (defining clause), 
    The girl who is standing there is a world champion in swimming.
  • or provide unnecessary but interesting information (non-defining clause).
    Michael Jackson, who was a famous singer, died because of an overdose.

Relative clauses can be introduced by: 

  1. A relative pronoun: who, whom, which, that, whose

    Example: "The man who is sitting there is a famous poet." 
  2. A relative adverb: where, why and when.

    Example: " The restaurant where I have dinner is nice."
  3. None of them.

    Example: "The man I met is extremely wealthy"


14.1  Relative Pronouns
Pronouns Explanations
  • subject or object pronoun for people 


  • They caught the lady who killed her baby.


1. Subject or object pronoun


  • I read the book which is on the table.
  • I visited the town which you told me about.

2. Referring to a whole sentence


  • They were unsuccessful, which is disappointing.

Used for object pronoun for people, especially in non-restrictive relative clauses (in restrictive relative clauses use who)


  • The boy whom you told me about got the best grades in Arts.

Subject or object pronoun for people, animals and things in restrictive relative clauses (who or which are also possible)


  • I like the plant that is over there.


14.2  Relative Adverbs
Adverbs Usage Examples

Referring to a place.

(a) The cafe where I usually get coffee has a nice ambience.

When Referring to a time.

(a) There are times when I wish time would stop.


Referring to a reason.

(a) There must be a reason why she turned down the offer.

14.3  Subject Pronoun and Object Pronoun

You can distinguish subject and object pronouns as follow:

  • If a noun or pronoun does not follow the relative pronoun, it is a subject pronounSubject relative pronouns can never be omitted (dropped.)
    The apple which is lying on the table is sweet.
    The teacher who lives next door is nice. 
  • If a noun or pronoun follows the relative pronoun, the relative pronoun is an object pronounObject relative pronouns can be omitted (dropped) in restrictive (defining) relative clauses.
    The film (which) we watched yesterday was fantastic.
    The writer (who/whom) we met last weekend is very famous.


14.4  Restrictive Relative Clause

1. Restrictive (identifying or defining) relative clauses give detailed necessary information. They are not put between commas.

I know the man who is standing there. 

2. These clauses are often used in definitions.

A novelist is someone who writes novels.

3. Object pronouns in these clauses can be omitted (dropped.) 

The boy (who/whom) we met yesterday is from New York.

14.5  Non-restrictive Relative Clause

Non-restrictive (non-identifying or non-defining) relative clauses give interesting additional information which is not necessary to the meaning of the sentence. These clauses are put between commas.

Martin Luther King, who was known for his fight for civil rights, was assassinated in 1968.


In non-restrictive relative clauses:

1. who/which may not be replaced with that.

Jim, who we met yesterday, is very nice.
Jim that we met yesterday, is very nice.

2. Object relative pronouns cannot be dropped.

Jim, who we met yesterday, is very nice.
Jim, we met yesterday, is very nice.