Relative clauses are also referred to as adjective clauses. They are used to modify a noun which is either the subject or the object of a sentence. Here is an example of each:
She is the woman who he met at the party last week.
I bought a book which was published in Germany last year.
"... who he met at the party ..." is a relative clause which describes the subject of the sentence 'woman'. "...which was published in Germany ... " describes the object of the verb 'bought'.
Intermediate level English learners need to learn relative clauses to improve their writing skills in order to begin writing more complex sentences. Relative clauses help connect two separate ideas which might be expressed in two separate sentences. Here is an example:
That is the school.
I went to that school as a boy.
That is the school (that) I went to as a boy.
That's a beautiful car over there!
I'd like to buy that car.
I'd like to buy that beautiful car which is over there.
Use relative clauses to provide extra information. This information can either define something (defining clause), or provide unnecessary, but interesting, added information (non-defining clause).
Relative clauses can be introduced by:
- a relative pronoun: who (whom), which, that, whose
- no relative pronoun: Ø
- where, why and when instead of a relative pronoun
You need to consider the following when deciding which relative pronoun to use:
- Is the subject or object or possessive of a relative clause?
- Does it refers to a person or an object?
- Is the relative clause a defining or non-defining relative clause?
NOTE: Relative clauses are often used in both spoken and written English. There is a tendency to use non-defining relative clauses mostly in written, rather than in spoken, English.Using Relative Clauses