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Defining Relative Clauses

Relative clauses add extra information to a sentence by defining a noun. They are usually divided into two types – defining relative clauses and non-defining relative clauses.

Remember that defining relative clauses are used to add important information. The sentence would have a different meaning without the defining relative clause.

Remember that defining relative clauses are used to add important information. The sentence would have a different meaning without the defining relative clause.
  • I’m going to wear the skirt that I bought in Hawaii. 
  • The skirt, which is a lovely dark orange colour, only cost £20. 
The first sentence with a defining relative clause tells us which skirt. The second sentence, with a non-defining relative clause, doesn’t tell us which skirt – it gives us more information about the skirt. The context (which is missing here) makes it clear which skirt is being talked about.

Lets consider another Example:

Imagine, Tim is in a room with four girls. One girl is talking to Tom and you ask somebody whether he knows this girl. Here the relative clause defines which of the four girls you mean.
  • Do you know the girl who is talking to Tim?

Defining relative clauses are often used in definitions.
  • A seaman is someone who works on a ship.

Object pronouns in defining relative clauses can be dropped. (Sentences with a relative clause without the relative pronoun are called Contact Clauses.)
  • The boy (who/whom) we met yesterday is very pleasant.

Relative clauses with who, which, that as subject pronoun can be replaced with a participle. This makes the sentence shorter and easier to understand.
  • I told you about the woman who lives next door. – I told you about the woman living next door.
  • Do you see the cat which is lying on the roof? – Do you see the cat lying on the roof


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Definition of Defining Relative Clause

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As the name suggests, defining relative clauses give essential information to define or identify the person or thing we are talking about. Take for example the sentence: Dogs that like cats are very unusual. In this sentence we understand that there are many dogs in the world, but we are only talking about the ones that like cats. The defining relative clause gives us the information. If the defining relative clause were removed from the sentence, the sentence would still be grammatically correct, but its meaning would have changed significantly.

A relative clause is a specific type of subordinate clause that adapts, describes or modifies a noun. Relative clauses add information to sentences by using a relative pronoun such as who, that or which. Relative pronoun is the Noun that the pronoun refers to. Defining relative clauses also called identifying relative clauses or restrictive relative clauses) give detailed information defining a general term or expression. Defining relative clauses are not put in commas.

A defining relative clause usually comes immediately after the noun it describes. We usually use a relative pronoun (e.g. who, that, which, whose and whom) to introduce a defining relative clause.

Defining relative clauses are composed of a relative pronoun (sometimes omitted), a verb, and optional other elements such as the subject or object of the verb. A reduced relative clause is a relative clause that is not marked by an explicit relative pronoun or complementize such as who, which or that. An example: the clause I saw in the English sentence "This is the man I saw."

Examples:
  1. The reason why I came here today is not important.
  2. Children who hate chocolate are uncommon.
  3. An elephant is an animal that lives in hot countries.
  4. They live in a house whose roof is full of holes.
  5. Let's go to a country where the sun always shines.

The relative pronoun is the subject:


We can use 'who', 'which' or 'that'. We use 'who' for people and 'which' for things. We can use 'that' for people or things.
The relative clause can come after the subject or the object of the sentence. We can't drop the relative pronoun.

For example (clause after the object of the sentence):
    • I'm looking for a secretary who / that can use a computer well.
    • She has a son who / that is a doctor.
    • We bought a house which / that is 200 years old.
    • I sent a letter which / that arrived three weeks later.

More examples (clause after the subject of the sentence):
    • The people who / that live on the island are very friendly.
    • The man who / that phoned is my brother.
    • The camera which / that costs £100 is over there.
    • The house which / that belongs to Julie is in London.

The relative pronoun is the object:


Next, let's talk about when the relative pronoun is the object of the clause. In this case we can drop the relative pronoun if we want to. Again, the clause can come after the subject or the object of the sentence. Here are some examples:

(Clause after the object)
    • She loves the chocolate (which / that) I bought.
    • We went to the village (which / that) Lucy recommended.
    • John met a woman (who / that) I had been to school with.
    • The police arrested a man (who / that) Jill worked with.

(Clause after the subject)
    • The bike (which / that) I loved was stolen.
    • The university (which / that) she likes is famous.
    • The woman (who / that) my brother loves is from Mexico.
    • The doctor (who / that) my grandmother liked lives in New York.

Examples of Defining Relative Clause

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We use defining relative clauses to give essential information about someone or something – information that we need in order to understand what or who is being referred to. A defining relative clause usually comes immediately after the noun it describes. We usually use a relative pronoun (e.g. who, that, which, whose and whom) to introduce a defining relative clause. 

'That' is often used to introduce defining relative clauses when they follow the words something, anything, everything, nothing, all or a superlative. It may be omitted when it is not the subject of the clause.

The examples of Defining Relative Clause are as below:

  1. She’s the lady who lent me her phone. 
  2. Nothing that anyone does can replace my lost bag.
  3. The mouse that the elephant loved was very beautiful.
  4. There are now only two schools in the area that actually teach Latin. 
  5. There's something that you should know.
  6. We had a lovely meal at the place which Phil recommended. 
  7. Do you have anything that will help my throat?
  8. They’re the people who want to buy our house.
  9. The man whose car was stolen.
  10. A tree whose leaves have fallen.
  11. Here are some cells which have been affected.
  12. They should give the money to somebody who they think needs the treatment most.
  13. It was the best film that I've ever seen.
  14. I'm sorry, but that is all that I saw.
  15. She’s now playing a woman whose son was killed in the First World War.
  16. Everything that you say seems silly to me.
  17. They’re the people that want to buy our house.
  18. Here are some cells that have been affected.
  19. The doctor whom/who/that I was hoping to see wasn't on duty.
  20. The woman who lives in apartment No. 37 has been arrested.
  21. An elephant is an animal that lives in hot countries.
  22. Do you know the girl who is talking to Tom?
  23. There's something that you should know.
  24. It was the best film that I've ever seen.
  25. They’re the people who/that she met at Jon’s party. 
  26. Has anyone seen the book I was reading?
  27. The document that I need has "important" written at the top.
  28. Let's go to a country where the sun always shines.
  29. A seaman is someone who works on a ship.
  30. The boy who/whom we met yesterday is very nice.

Exercise

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Choose the correct defining relative clause and  fill in the blanks with appropriate answers:

  • A hotel is a place  _________ people stay when they're on holiday
  • What's the name of the woman  _________  lives in that house?
  • What do you call someone  _________ writes computer programs?
  • A waiter is a person _________  job is to serve customers in a restaurant.
  • She worked for a man __________ used to be an athlete
  • The girl __________ is from India works in a bank
  • They called a lawyer __________ lived nearby
  • I sent an email to my brother __________ lives in Australia
  • The customer liked the waitress __________ was very friendly
  • We broke the computer __________ belonged to my father
  • I dropped a glass __________ was new
  • She loves books __________ have happy endings
  • The table __________ was my grandmother’s got broken
  • They live in a city __________ is in the north of England
  • The man __________ is wearing a blue jumper is in the garden
  • The fruit __________ isn’t fresh is on the table.
  • My sister __________ lives in Australia has three children
  • The waiter __________ was wearing a blue shirt was rude
  • The money __________ belongs to John is in the kitchen
  • The television __________ was bought 20 years ago was stolen
  • Overalls are clothes  _________ people wear to protect their clothes when they are working.
  • Is that the shop  _________ you bought your new laptop?
  • He's the man  _________ son plays football for Manchester Utd.
  • Hal didn't get the job _________  he applied for.
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