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11.12: Relative Clauses

  • Page ID
    28023
  • A clause is a group of related words that has a subject and a verb. A relative clause provides additional information about a noun, pronoun, or an entire clause that is already in the sentence, by telling which one, what kind of, how many, or more about the nature of something.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    RELATIVE CLAUSES in 4 Steps. Authored by: Insights to English. Standard YouTube License.

    Rules for Using Relative Clauses

    Relative clauses use a relative pronoun to refer to a pronoun or noun that appears earlier in the sentence. They are sometimes also referred to as adjective clauses although that is a broader category of modifier, of which relative clauses are a part. Relative pronouns can only be used to refer to something earlier in that same sentence. To avoid confusion, a relative clause almost always appears immediately following the noun, pronoun, or clause it modifies. It must refer to something earlier in the same sentence. Sentences cannot begin with relative pronouns, which begin relative clauses.

    Rule 1:

    Relative clauses should begin with a relative pronoun that refers to the correct type of noun (see table).

    Use the Correct Word

    Relative Pronoun Refers To Replaces Examples
    who people I, we, you, he, she, they (as subjects of the sentence)

    Uncle Jeff, who is a sailor, has been everywhere.

    (Uncle Jeff is a sailor. He has been everywhere.)

    whom people me, us, you, her, him, them (as objects of verbs or prepositions)

    Aunt Edna, whom you met last year, paints portraits.

    (Aunt Edna paints portraits. You met her last year.)

    whose possessives mine, our, your, his, her, their, its

    Joe's cat, whose tail is hairless, was mistaken for a rat.

    (Joe's cat was mistaken for a rat. Its tail was hairless.)

    which things it, they, them

    My new car, which cost a bundle, broke down on the bridge.

    (My new car broke down on the bridge. It cost a bundle.)

    that people or things I, we, you, he, she, it, they, me, us, him, her, them

    Sarah wants to buy the sofa that is in the window of the department store.

    (Sarah wants to buy the sofa. It is in the window of the department store.)

    Save the seat that is closest to the front for me.

    (Save the seat for me. It is closest to the front.)

    when time then

    Last week, when we were shopping, I bought lunch.

    (Last week, I bought lunch. We were shopping then.)

    where place there

    We had a lovely hotel in Ixtapa, where we honeymooned.

    (We had a lovely hotel in Ixtapa. We honeymooned there.)

    Rule 2:

    A relative clause can begin or end with a preposition, but not both.

    Correct: She wore an outfit for which she received many compliments.

    Sort of okay: She wore an outfit that she received many compliments on.

    Incorrect: She wore an outfit on which she received many compliments on.

    Rule 3:

    If a preposition is in the sentence when it’s taken apart, then there should be a preposition in the relative clause.

    Taken apart:

    She wore a dress.

    She received many compliments for it.

    Together:

    She wore an outfit for which she received many compliments.

    Relative Clauses and Comma Usage

    Whether a comma is needed before the relative pronoun depends on whether the relative clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive.

    A restrictive reference means that the thing or person the pronoun refers to is part of a group.

    A nonrestrictive reference means that the thing or people the pronoun refers to is all of a group.

    Rule 4:

    When the situation is restrictive, do not use a comma before the relative pronoun.

    For instance:

    • The place where they were from was very hot and dry. (It’s one of many places.)
    • The people who were late had taken mass transit. (Not all of the people were late.)
    • The tools that were stolen were in an unlocked box. (Some of the tools were stolen)

    Rule 5:

    “That” is always restrictive.

    Rule 6:

    When the situation is nonrestrictive, use a comma before the relative pronoun.

    For instance:

    • South America, where they are from, has many different cultures. (This implies that they are all from South America.)
    • The people, who were late, had taken mass transit. (This implies all the people were late.)
    • The tools, which were stolen, were in an unlocked box. (All of the tools were stolen.)

    Rule 7:

    “Which” is always nonrestrictive.

    Exercise 1

    For each of these sentence sets:

    • First fill in the blank on line a with a personal pronoun that makes it a complete sentence.
    • Then, fill in the blank on line b with the relative pronoun that makes it a relative clause.
    • Refer to the above table listing personal and relative pronouns if you need to.

    Compare your answers with a classmate.

    Example:

    a Poodles are smart dogs. They make great companions.

    b Poodles, which make great companions, are smart dogs.

    1. a The man got a ticket. _______ parked his car next to mine.

    b The man __________ parked his car next to mine got a ticket.

    2. a Dr. Thompson enjoys baseball. ____________ teaches geology.

    b Dr. Thompson, __________ teaches geology, enjoys baseball.

    3. a This book is available in our library. I ordered _________.

    b This book, __________ I ordered, is available in our library.

    4. a The partner also earned an A. You worked with ___________.

    b This partner with _____________ you worked also earned an A.

    5. a He moved to Arizona. The climate was drier ___________.

    b He moved to Arizona, ____________ the climate was drier.

    6. a The little girl played ball. __________ braids were tucked in her cap.

    b The little girl, __________ braids were tucked in her cap, played ball.

    7. a I tattled to _________.

    b To __________ did you tattle?

    Exercise 2

    Combine the following sentence sets to create one sentence with a relative clause. Ensure the punctuation is correct. 1. My cell phone battery is starting to die. My cell phone shuts down at 15%. 2. The Democratic presidential debate was aired on Tuesday night. Saturday Night Live parodies the presidential debates. 3. I am going to Phoenix this summer. It is very hot in Phoenix. 4. Rachel and Rochelle watch horror movies. Horror movies terrify and thrill them. 5. Violence seems to be everywhere on the media. Media violence makes people feel more in danger than they actually are. 6. The children were playing baseball in the street. Some of the children scattered when the window shattered.

    Exercise 3

    Find two sentences in your own writing that have relative clauses. Write them down. If they are incorrect, fix them following the original. If they are correct, just write down the originals.

    Alternatively, find two places in your writing where you name something at the end of the sentence and repeat that name at the beginning of the next sentence. This is a good place to combine your sentences using a relative clause.

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    This page most recently updated on January 15, 2020.