Today we’re going to look at something that’s very important for all of you Go Natural English learners. Relative clauses might not sound too exciting, but these simple words can help you sound a lot more fluent.
We use relative clauses to to join two sentences or to add information to a sentence. Relative clauses allow us to get more information into a sentence without needing to start a new one.
Here are some sentences without relative clauses:
▪ That’s the boy. That boy lives near school.
▪ I gave you a pen this morning. Can I have it?
▪ The bike is in the garage. The bike is my sister’s.
These sentences are correct, but we can use relative clauses to make BETTER sentences that sound more natural.
▪ That’s the boy who lives near school.
▪ Can I have the pen that I gave you this morning?
▪ The bike, which is my sister’s, is in the garage.
There are TWO types of relative clauses, defining and non-defining.
Defining relative clauses give us ESSENTIAL information about a noun. They make it clear which person or thing we are talking about by identifying or defining the noun.
For example, if I tell you, “The woman in the picture is my sister,” the sentence is not clear. There are TWO women in the picture. Which one is my sister?
So, we use a defining relative clause:
The woman who is wearing glasses is my sister.
The relative pronoun WHO is used to link the relative clause “who is wearing glasses” to the noun “woman.” Here’s a list of all the relative pronouns that we can use:
▪ who (used for people – subject or object pronoun)
The man who came over yesterday is our neighbor.
▪ whom (used for people – object pronoun)
The customer whom I called was upset.
▪ which (used for things or animals – subject or object pronoun)
The dress which I bought yesterday was expensive.
▪ whose (used for people or things – possessive pronoun)
I know a woman whose daughter works at the White House.
▪ that (used for people or things – subject or object pronoun)
The customer that called me was upset.
The dress that I bought yesterday was expensive.
→ Useful tip! THAT is very common in spoken English and often replaces WHO and WHICH, but only in defining relative clauses.
Non-defining relative clauses give us EXTRA information about a noun. They do NOT identify or define the noun.
We visited Prague Castle, which is close to Charles Bridge.
If you remove “which is close to Charles Bridge,” the sentence has the same meaning. We don’t need to define or identify Prague Castle, because there is only one Prague Castle in Prague.
Here’s another example:
My son, who lives in Sydney, is coming to visit me next week.
Can you identify the non-defining relative clause? If you remove“who lives in Sydney,” the sentence still has the same meaning.
Relative adverbs are used like relative pronouns. We can sometimes use these question words instead of relative pronouns.
when, used to describe times
My favorite season is summer, when the days are long and hot.
where, used to describe places
Last summer I went to Mississippi, where Elvis Presley was born.
why, used to give a reason
There’s a good reason why I never want to go there again.
The relative pronouns WHO, WHOM, WHICH and WHOSE can all be used in non-defining relative clauses. However, THAT is only used in defining relative clauses.
Feeling motivated to use relative clauses? We hope so! If you need a little extra motivation, you can check out three steps to stay motivated here.
READY TO GIVE IT A TRY?
Combine the two short sentences into a single sentence using a relative clause.
- There’s the store. I bought a dress at that store yesterday.
- I have a sister. My sister works in New York.
- An elephant is an animal. It lives in hot countries.