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Restrictive Clause


A Clause is nothing but a group of words which at times might form part of a sentence or might be a complete sentence in itself. It consists of a subject and a verb and is considered to be the smallest grammatical unit which makes sense. They can be mainly classified under two heads based on their meaning:

  1. Independent or Main Clause (one which expresses complete meaning and can stand on its own)
  2. Dependent or Subordinate Clause (one which cannot make a complete meaning on its own and cannot stand alone and need the help of an Independent Clause to form a sentence) which can be further divided under three heads:
a) Noun Clause (A dependent Clause which acts as a noun)
b) Adjective Clause (A dependent Clause which acts as an adjective)
c) Adverbial Clause (A dependent Clause which acts as an adverb)


Adjective Clause

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A Dependent Clause acting as an adjective is known as an Adjective Clause. Also known as Relative Clause functions similar to an adjective i.e. it also modifies a noun or pronoun. It will satisfy the below conditions, i.e.
  1. It acts as an adjective and thus answers the questions like which, what, whom, who, etc.,
  2. It generally begins with a relative pronoun (that, who, which, whose, whom) or a relative adverb (when, why, where). 
  • My brother, who is a doctor, sponsored my education.
  • This is the book that I was reading.
Now as we can see there is a slight difference in the two examples given above. In the first one the clause has been separated with the help of commas where as in the second one the clause is not offset by a comma. Yes, I know that may not seem to be a very great difference as it looks like the part of structure, but this does matter as both the above examples belong to two different categories. Let us study the two types of Adjective Clause in detail.
  • Restrictive or Essential or Definite Clause 
  • Non Restrictive or Non Essential or Non Definite Clause

Restrictive Clause

A Restrictive Clause is the one which functions as an adjective and is essential in a sentence and hence it is also known as Essential or Defining Clause. It is said to be essential as it identifies the word and modifies by restricting its meaning. It gives us the essential information and the identification of the noun. It limits to the thing which it refers and the sentence would either not make sense or its meaning would change if the clause is removed. Let us consider this example. 
  • I like the house.
In the above sentence can you guess about which house am I talking? Certainly not, and that is because I have given no specifications or no information about it. In shot the clause is missing. Now let me add a clause to it and reconsider the sentence.
  • I like the house that is situated next to my school.
This sentence is clear and specifies about which particular house I am referring to. Just by using the Restrictive Clause I made my indication very clear. The clause restricts or limits the meaning of the noun (house) it modifies. In the earlier explanation we studied that the Restrictive Clause are essential and since they are essential and restrict the meaning of the noun in the sentence, they should not be set off by commas. We can also reconstruct the same sentence using the relative pronoun “which” i.e.
  • I like the house which is situated next to my school.
Again this sentence is not wrong but there are some objections with “which” being used as a Restrictive Clause and is mainly considered to be a Non Restrictive Clause. So we generally prefer “that” over “which”.

Let us consider a few more Examples:
  • All the students who study this chapter will pass the test.
  • The house that I want to buy is far beyond my savings.
  • The painting that is hanging in the lobby needs to be replaced.
  • I hope to hear from the doctor whom I visited.

Non Restrictive Clauses

To understand the Restrictive Clause better we need to have an idea about the Non Restrictive Clause too. It is just the opposite of the Restrictive Clause. It does not restrict or limit the noun it modifies and is set off by commas unlike the Restrictive Clause. It is just gives us additional information which is not so essential to the sentence, and thus even removing or deleting the Non Restrictive Clause will not cause much difference to the sentence.

  • I went to the museum with Rose, who lives next door.
  • My sister, who is an excellent dancer, is moving to London.
In both the above sentence the clauses even if removed will not create much difference to the sentence.

Practice Time:

Exercise # 1:  Please check out the sentences given below and state YES if it is a Restrictive Clause and NO if not.
  1. Only students who can speak French should apply for the course.
  2. Alisha, who lives down the street, was crying in pain.
  3. My teacher knows that I will pass the exam.
  4. I am in love with the girl who is sitting next to the window.
  5. Kelly, who has blue eyes, won the dance competition.
  6. Dominic, who is a good cook, wants to open a restaurant.
  7. The person who was standing next to me is a criminal.
  8. The girl who you were talking to is my sister.
  9. Mr. Cullen, who is brilliant in English, has offered to help me with my homework.
  10. I met the girl who had danced with me.
Exercise # 2:  Fill in the blanks and complete the sentence with the help of a Restrictive Clause.
  1. Angus was worried that ___________________.
  2. The bed that _________________ is made of wood.
  3. I went to the party with the girl ________________.
  4. The girl _________________died in an accident.
  5. People ________________ cannot at sweets.
  6. The tourist was attacked by a lion when_______________.
  7. The student ________________ will pass the test.
  8. The guard ________________ is my brother.
  9. The girl _________________ has blue eyes.
  10. The painting _______________ needs to be framed again.
Exercise # 3: Please go through the below sentences and state if comma(s) is/are needed. Write YES if needed else NO.
  1. Adam who is a Canadian plays brilliant laser tag.
  2. We loved the hotel where we stayed during our visit to London.
  3. The town that is situated in the mountains is very small.
  4. The girl who you were talking to is a good singer.
  5. The boy who is wearing a blue shirt is from England.
  6. Emmanuel who was born and brought up in London is a good athlete.
  7. Only the students who have attended the class regularly will know the answer to this question.
  8. Zed who is from Ohio dances quite well.
  9. Maria who belongs to a small town is afraid of lizards.
  10. I like the girl who is in a red frock.
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