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Adjective Clause

What is an Adjective Clause?

An adjective clause, like other clauses, contains a subject and a verb but cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence. It is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun or a pronoun in the main clause and is usually connected to the word it modifies by one of the relative pronouns ( who, whosewhom, which, or that ) or relative adverbs ( when, where, or why ). 

An adjective clause usually follows the word it modifies and tells what kind or which one.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  1. My sister, who is a Math scholar, solved the tricky problem for me.                                            
               ↓                     ↓                                                             
            Noun           Adjective clause                                                                              

       The adjective clause 'who is a Math scholar' modifies the noun 'sister’.

  2. The road that was damaged due to heavy rains will now have to be rebuilt from scratch.    
               ↓                      ↓                                                                                                         
            Noun           Adjective clause                                                                                             

       Here, the adjective clause 'that was damaged due to heavy rains' modifies the noun 'the road'.

  3. My garden is the only place where I can relax.
                                         ↓             ↓
                                      Noun    Adjective clause                                                                         

       The clause 'where I can relax’ modifies the noun 'place,' so it is functioning as an adjective clause.

In addition to relating a subordinate clause to the main clause, a relative pronoun also has a function in the subordinate clause.


        1. I was unable to get hold of the rat that bounded across the whole house.
                                                               Adjective clause

            The relative pronoun ‘that’ functions as the subject of the verb ‘bounded’.

         2. Mark is one of my best friends on whom I can always depend.
                                                               Adjective clause

             The relative pronoun ‘whom’ functions as the object of the preposition ‘on’.


Adjective Clause Examples

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In the following examples, the adjective clause is underlined and word it modifies is highlighted in brown.
  1. The ice cream that you recommended to the kids had a lot of artificial flavors. 

  2. The curtains, which you bought last week, look rather dull.

  3. A dietician who indulges in unhealthy eating has no right to sermonize her patients.

  4. The young man whom we met in the library is a journalist.

  5. The film, whose trailer received a huge positive response, turned out to be a damp squib.

  6. We finally moved to Arizona, where we lived for ten years.

  7. There are times when I wonder why I dropped out of college.

  8. The reason why we are gathered here is to decide whether or not to purchase the new software.

Types of Adjective Clause

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Adjective clauses can be either essential or nonessential.
  • Essential or Restrictive Adjective Clause is not set off by commas as it gives the information that is necessary for the reader to identify the noun it modifies.
          For example,

             1. Food that is grown organically is more expensive than inorganic food.

                 Here, the phrase that is grown organically provides essential information about food. Hence, it must not be set off by                          commas.

              2. The boy who plays the saxophone in the Irish pub is an orphan.

                 The adjective clause who plays the saxophone in the Irish pub specifies which boy is an orphan. Therefore, the clause                      must not be set off with commas. 

  • Nonessential or Non-restrictive Adjective Clause requires commas. Nonessential clauses can be omitted from a sentence without affecting the basic meaning of the sentence.
          For example

            1. Canned and Packaged foods, which are convenient for most working people, are not healthy.

                In this example, the clause which is convenient for most working people provides extra or nonessential information about                   packaged foods. If removed, it would not change the meaning or essence of the sentence. Hence, it must be set off by                     commas.

             2. My music teacher, who wears gold-rimmed spectacles, is skilled in playing several instruments. 

                This who clause is nonessential because the information in the clause doesn't restrict or limit the noun it modifies. The                     commas signify that the adjective clause provides added, not essential, information. Therefore, it is set off by commas.

Test Yourself

I. Underline the adjective clause and circle the noun it modifies.
  1. Buildings that use recycled material are environmentally conscious.

  2. Those people who are honest are never scared.

  3. Math, which is my favorite subject, has always been easy for me to tackle. 

  4. My grandfather often remembers the days when children spent a lot of their spare time outdoors. 

  5. Kathy’s father, whose imagination is vivid, is an expert on modern literature.
II. Underline the adjective clause in the following sentences and identify whether the clause is restrictive or non-restrictive.
  1. My colleague who runs a side business is often unfocused at work.

  2. Michelle, whose father is a retired army man, believes in old world traditions and customs. 

  3. The factory has machines that grind paper into pulp.

  4. The new car, which my father bought for me, has unique safety features.

  5. We finally reached the spot where we left our luggage.

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