Relative Clauses

Introduction to Relative Clauses

Relative clauses, also known as adjective clauses, are one of the various types of clauses in English grammar. They are used to give additional information about a noun, expand on its meaning, or help to identify it. In this tutorial, we will explore the concept, usage, rules, and types of relative clauses.

What are Relative Clauses?

A relative clause is a clause that describes a noun, making it ‘relative’ to that noun. It can either define or give additional information about the noun. These types of clauses are introduced by a relative pronoun, a relative adverb, or a zero relative.

A relative clause can be either restrictive (also known as defining) or non-restrictive (also called non-defining).


  • Defining relative clause: The book that I am reading is very interesting.
  • Non-defining relative clause: John, who is my best friend, is moving to Boston.

  • Relative Pronouns and Their Usage

    Relative pronouns are words like 'who', 'which', 'that', etc. They are used to introduce a relative clause.


  • The man who visited me in the hospital was my uncle. ('Who' is the relative pronoun, referring to 'the man')
  • I didn’t like the movie which we watched last night. ('Which' is the relative pronoun, referring to 'the movie')
  • Usage:

  • Who: Used for people.
  • Which: Used for animals and objects.
  • That: Used for people, animals, and objects in defining relative clauses.
  • Whose: Used to indicate possession.
  • Examples:

  • This is John, who is a doctor.
  • That’s the house where I was born.
  • The woman, whose car is red, is my neighbor.

  • Defining Relative Clauses

    Defining relative clauses (also called essential relative clauses) are clauses that give essential information about the noun they refer to. We cannot understand the sentence without this information. They don’t need to be separated by commas.


  • The people who work hard eventually succeed.
  • The house that is painted blue is old.

  • Non-defining Relative Clauses

    Non-defining relative clauses provide extra information about the noun. This 'extra' information can be left out without changing the overall meaning of the sentence. These types of clauses are usually separated by commas.


  • My brother, who lives abroad, is an engineer.
  • This book, which was written by JK Rowling, is a bestseller.
  • Zero Relatives

    In some situations, the relative pronoun can be left out when it is the object of the clause.


  • The man (that) I saw yesterday was Jeff.
  • The cake (which) I bought is delicious.

  • Tips for Using Relative Clauses

    While making sentences, it is common to face some confusion about when to use commas and when not to. Here are some tips:

    1. While using non-defining relative clauses, always separate the clause with commas, as it is additional information.
    2. While using defining relative clauses, do not use commas, as this information is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    Relative clauses are crucial for improving the richness and precision of our language expression. Practicing identifying and using them correctly will enhance your communication skills significantly. This comprehensive guide should be a good starting point to grasp the rules of constructing sentences with relative clauses.


    In conclusion, relative clauses are an exceptional tool to create more detailed and specific sentences. Correct usage enhances your language abilities and makes your communication clearer and more effective. Take your time to master their use, practice consistently, and you will see significant improvement.

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