Relative clauses

What is a relative clause? Here are some examples and explanations.

Relative clauses
Defining relative clauses are used to specify which person or thing we mean.
Who or that are used for people. Which or that are used for things.

We don't use commas in a defining relative clause.
I have a friend who / that speaks five languages.

She showed me the coat which / that she had bought.
Non-defining relative clauses (extra information clauses) are used to add extra information to a sentence.

We use commas in a non-defining relative clause.

Who is used for people.
Which is used for things.
That cannot be used.
Mr Fry, who speaks five languages, works as a translator for the EU.
Mr Fry, that speaks five languages, works as a translator for the EU.

The area, which has very high unemployment, is in the north of the country.
The area, that has very high unemployment, is in the north of the country.
Relative clauses – common mistakes
Common mistakes Correct version Why?
The man who was sitting next to me he had a brown jacket. The man who was sitting next to me had a brown jacket. After a relative clause we do not repeat the subject (the man, he).
The book what I bought was by Edward Lear. The book that I bought was by Edward Lear. Only that or which are possible, NOT what.
He lent me the book, which I found it very useful. He lent me the book, which I found very useful. A relative clause can have only one direct object.
The winner, that was 25, will receive $12,000. The winner, who was 25, will receive $12,000. That cannot be used in a non-defining (extra information) clause.
Our office is about two kilometres from the centre, which I share with my two colleagues. Our office, which I share with my two colleagues, is about two kilometres from the city centre. A relative clause follows the noun (office) to which it refers.
See also: Relative pronouns: who, which, that, whose, where

2 Comments

  1. [Pronouns] – Lesson 5: Relative pronouns | Learning English - March 12, 2014, 9:09 am Reply

    […] A relative pronoun introduces a relative clause: […]

  2. Clauida-may - November 25, 2016, 7:04 pm Reply

    I really did not understand relative clauses are I was trying to get a good website this was really helpful information !!! CHEERS

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