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Relative Clauses in English

What is a relative clause?

A relative clause is a type of dependent clause that has a subject and a verb. As it functions like an adjective(it gives more information about a noun), it is also called an “adjective clause”. A relative clause starts with a “relative pronoun,” which swaps a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun when sentences are merged.

Relative clauses can be used to embed one sentence into another sentence or to add extra information to the sentence to make the sentences more fluent, formally attractive and short by avoiding repetitive words from multiple sentences.

For example:
Without a relative clause – I bought a new chair. It is very comfortable.
Now with a relative clause – I bought a new chair that is very comfortable.

Without a relative clause – She works at a restaurant. She likes working at Restaurant.
Now with a relative clause – She works at a restaurant, which she likes.

Defining and Non-defining Relative Clause

A defining relative clause describes the noun we are speaking about:

For example:
Sentence: I drove the car that has just been launched.
If ‘that has just been launched’ is absent in the statement, then the car being talked about can’t be figured out.

A non-defining relative clause provides added information regarding something. This information isn’t required to understand the sentence.

For example:
I bought a new smartphone phone which has many unique features.
Everybody knows what a smartphone is, so ‘which has many unique features’ is extra information.

Defining relative clauses

1. The relative pronoun is the subject:
For people, we use ‘who’ and for things, we use ‘which’. When the relative pronoun is the subject of a defining relative clause, ‘that’ can be used for persons or objects. The subject or the object of the sentence can be followed by the relative clause. The relative pronoun can’t be dropped.

For example:
I’m looking for a worker that can use a hammer well.
She has a daughter who is a pilot.
We bought a car which is 2 months old.
I sent an email that has an invitation.

More examples:
The woman who messaged is my aunt.
The smartphone that costs £180 is over here.
The shop which belongs to Jack is located in Paris.

2. The relative pronoun is the object.
When the relative pronoun is the object of the clause, we can skip it if we don’t want to use it. Again, the clause can be placed after the subject or the object of the sentence. Following are some of the examples:

Clause after the object:-
He loves the sweets which I bought.
We went to the park that Nick recommended.
Jenny met a man who I had been to college with.
The police detained a woman that Jenny worked with.

Clause after the subject:-
The jacket that I liked was stolen.
The college which he likes is popular.
The man who my friend loves is from London.
The doctor that my grandfather loved lives in Mexico.

Non-defining relative clauses

‘that’ cannot be used in non-defining relative clauses, so ‘which’ is used if the pronoun refers to a thing, and ‘who’ is used if pronoun refers to a person. Even if the relative pronoun is the subject of the clause, the relative pronoun can’t be removed in this kind of clause.

Clause comes after the subject:
My sister, who is very nice, lives in Italy.
My brother, who I live with, knows a lot about finance.
My car, which I’ve had for more than 5 years, is falling apart.
My father’s house, which I grew up in, is very big.

Clause comes after the object:
Yesterday I called my brother Jack, who studies in Australia.
Last month I bought a new laptop, which I don’t like now.
I like the new Chinese dish, which we had last night.

Prepositions and relative clauses

If a preposition is needed by the verb in the relative clause, we place it at the end of the clause.

For example:
listen to
This music is good. Jack listens to this music.
→ The music which Jack listens to is good.

work with
His brother met a man. I used to work with that man.
→ His brother met a man that I used to work with.

go to
The place is very cold. She went to that place.
→ The place where she went to is very cold.

come from
I visited the street. Julie comes from the street.
→ I visited the street that Julie comes from.

apply for
The job is well paid. He applied for the job.
→ The job which she applied for is well paid.

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