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There are two types of relative clauses:
1. Defining relative clauses
2. Non-defining relative clauses
DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSES
These describe the preceding noun in such a way to distinguish it from other nouns of the same class. A
clause of this kind is essential to clear understanding of the noun.
The boy who was playing is my brother.
Defining Relative Pronouns
SUBJECT OBJECT POSSESSIVE
For people Who
For things Which
Defining Relative Clauses: people
A. Subject: who or that
Who is normally used:
The man who robbed you has been arrested.
The girls who serve in the shop are the owner’s daughters.
But that is a possible alternative after all, everyone, everybody, no one, nobody and those:
Everyone who/that knew him liked him.
Nobody who/that watched the match will ever forget it.
B. Object of a verb: whom, who or that
The object form is whom, but it is considered very formal. In spoken English we normally use who
or that (that being more usual than who), and it is still more common to omit the object pronoun
The man whom I saw told me to come back today.
The man who I saw told me to come back today.
The man that I saw told me to come back today.
The man I saw told me to come back today.
C. With a preposition: whom or that
In formal English the preposition is placed before the relative pronoun, which must then be put
into the form whom:
The man to whom I spoke…
In informal speech, however, it is more usual to move the preposition to the end of the clause.
Whom then is often replaced by that, but it is still more common to omit the relative altogether:
The man who/whom I spoke to…
The man that I spoke to…
The man I spoke to…
Whose is the only possible form:
People whose rents have been raised can appeal.
The film is about a spy whose wife betrays him.
To make short answers:
we use the verb to be (am/is/are/was/were) for Present Simple, Past Simple, Present
Continuous, Past Continuous and Going To questions.
we use the verb have (have/has/had) for Present Perfect and Past Perfect questions.
we use will for Future Simple questions.
Defining Relative Clauses: things
Either which or that. Which is more formal.
This is the picture which/that caused such a sensation.
The stairs which/that lead to the cellar are rather slippery.
B. Object of a verb
Which or that or no relative at all.
The car which/that I hired broke down.
The car I hired broke down.
Which is hardly ever used after all, everything, little, much, none, no and compounds of no, or
after superlatives. Instead we use that, or omit the relative altogether, if it is the object of a verb:
All the apples that fall are eaten by the pigs.
This is the best hotel (that) I know.
C. Object of a preposition
The formal construction is preposition + which, but it is more usual to move the preposition to
the end of the clause, using which or that or omitting the relative altogether:
The ladder on which I was standing began to slip.
The ladder which/that I was standing on began to slip.
The ladder I was standing on began to slip.
Whose + a clause is possible but with + a phrase is more usual:
a house whose walls were made of glass
a house with glass walls
E. Relative adverbs: when, where, why
Note that when can replace in/on which (used of time):
the year when (= in which) he was born
the day when (= in which) they arrived
Where can replace in/at which (used of place):
the hotel where (= in/at which) they were staying
Why can replace for which:
the reason why he refused is…
When, where and why used in this way are called relative adverbs.
NON-DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSES
Non-defining relative clauses are placed after nouns which are definite already. They do not therefore
define the noun. But merely add something to it by giving some more information about it. They are not
essential in the sentence and can be omitted without causing confusion. They are separated from their
noun by commas. The pronoun can never be omitted in a non-defining relative clause.
ENGLISH GRAMMAR Relative Clauses
The boy who was playing is my brother.
Non-Defining Relative Pronouns
SUBJECT OBJECT POSSESSIVE
For people Who Whom/Who Whose
For things Which Which Whose
Non-Defining Relative Clauses: people
A. Subject: who
No other pronoun is possible. Note the commas:
My neighbor, who is very pessimistic, says there will be no apples this year.
Peter, who had been driving all day, suggested stopping at the next town.
B. Object: whom, who
The pronoun cannot be omitted. Whom is the correct form, though who is sometimes used in
Peter, whom everyone suspected, turned out to be innocent..
C. Object of a preposition: whom
The pronoun cannot be omitted. The preposition is normally placed before whom:
Mr Jones, for whom I was working, was very generous about overtime payments.
It is however possible to move the preposition to the end of the clause. This is commonly done in
conversation, and who then usually takes the place of whom:
Mr Jones, who I was working for,was very generous about overtime payments.
If the clause contains an expression of time or place, this will remain at the end:
Peter, with whom I played tennis on Sundays, was fitter than me.
Peter, who/whom I played tennis with on Sundays, was fitter than me.
D. Possesssive: whose
Ann, whose children are at school all day, is trying to get a job.
This is George, whose class you will be taking.
Non-Defining Relative Clauses: things
A. Subject: which
That is not used here:
That block, which cost £5 million to build, has been empty for years.
The 8.15 train, which is usually very punctual, was late today.
B. Object: which
That is not used here, and the which can never be omitted.
She gave me this jumper, which she had knitted herself.
These books, which you can get at any bookshop, will give you all the information you
C. Object of a preposition
The preposition comes before which, or (more informally) at the end of the clause:
Ashdown Forest, through which we’ll be driving, isn’t a forest any longer.
Ashdown Forest, which we’ll be driving through, isn’t a forest any longer.
His house, for which he paid £10,000, is now worth £50,000.
His house, which he paid £10,000 for, is now worth £50,000.
D. Possesssive: whose or of which
Whose is generally used both for animals and things. Of which is possible for things, but it is
unusual except in very formal English.
His house, whose windows are all broken, was a depressing sight.
The car, whose handbrake wasn’t very reliable, began to slide backwards.
- A. J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet, A Practical English Grammar, Oxford University Press, 1986
- R. Fernández Carmona, English Grammar… with exercises, Longman, 2000
- R. Murphy, Essential Grammar in Use, Cambridge University Press 1994
- M. Harrison, Grammar Spectrum 2, Oxford University Press, 1996
- N. Coe, Grammar Spectrum 3, Oxford University Press, 1996
1. Write sentences to describe people in box A using the information in box B.
a thief a dentist takes photographs is very intelligent
a butcher a fool sells meat plays a musical instrument
a musician a genius is ill in hospital doesn’t tell the truth
a patient a liar steal things looks after your teeth
a photographer is very stupid
a. A thief is a person who steals things.
b. A butcher is a person who ___________________________________________________________
c. A musician is a person ______________________________________________________________
d. A patient _________________________________________________________________________
2. Join the sentences to write a longer one.
a. A man phoned. He didn’t say his name. The man who phoned didn’t say his name.
b. A woman opened the door. She was wearing a yellow dress. The woman
_____________________________________________________________________ a yellow dress.
c. Some people live next door to us. They are very nice. The people
d. A policeman stopped our car. He wasn’t very friendly. The policeman ______________________
e. A boy broke the window. He ran away. The boy _______________________________________
3. Write who/that/which in the blanks.
a. I met a woman who can speak six languages.
b. What’s the name of the man _____________ lives next door?
c. What’s the name of the river _____________ goes through the town?
d. Everybody _____________ went to the party enjoyed it very much.
e. Do you know anybody _____________ wants to buy a car?
f. Where is the picture _____________ was on the wall?
ENGLISH GRAMMAR Relative Clauses
g. She always asks me questions _____________ are difficult to answer.
h. I have a friend _____________ is very good at repairing cars.
i. A coffee-maker is a machine _____________ makes coffee.
j. I don’t like people _____________ never stop talking.
k. Have you seen the money _____________ was on the table?
l. Why does he always wear clothes _____________ are too small for him?
4. Join the sentences to write a single sentence.
a. Ann took some photographs. Have you seen them? Have you seen the photographs Ann took?
b. You lost a key. Did you find it? Did you find the __________________________________________
c. Jill is wearing a jacket. I like it. I like the _________________________________________________
d. I gave you some money. Where is it? Where is the _______________________________________
e. She told us a story. I didn’t believe it. I________________________________ the _________
f. You bought some oranges. How much were they? How ___________________________________
5. Complete the sentences with the information in brackets.
a. (we met some people) The people we met were very nice.
b. (I’m wearing shoes) The shoes __________________________________ are not very comfortable.
c. (you’re reading a book) What’s the name of the ________________________________________?
d. (I wrote a letter to her) She didn’t get the _____________ I _______________________________.
e. (you gave me an umbrella) I’ve lost __________________________________________________.
f. (they invited some people to dinner) The people ______________________________ didn’t come.
6. Complte the sentences with the information in the box.
you went to a party Linda is dancing with a man you stayed at a hotel
we looked at a map you were looking for a book I was sitting on a chair
they live in a house you spoke to a woman
a. What’s the name of the hotel you stayed at?
b. What’s the name of the woman you __________________________________________________?
c. The house ______________________________________________________ is too small for them.
d. Did you enjoy the party _____________________________________________________________?
e. The chair ____________________________________________________ wasn’t very comfortable.
f. The map ___________________________________________________________ wasn’t very clear.
g. Did you find the book ______________________________________________________________?
h. Who is the man ___________________________________________________________________?
7. Complete the sentences with where and the information in the box.
we had dinner in a restaurant John works in a factory
we stayed at a hotel they live in a village
a. What’s the name of the hotel where we stayed?
b. What’s the name of the restaurant____________________________________________________?
c. Have you ever been to the village ____________________________________________________?
d. The factory _____________________________________________________ is the biggest in town.
8. Join the sentences using who or which.
a. We chose the hotel. It seemed to be the nicest. We chose the hotel which seemed to be the nicest.
b. She spoke to the man. He was standing next to her.
c. I read the letters. They came in the morning post.
d. He likes the other people. They work in his office.
e. She’s that singer. She was on television last night.
f. Next week there is a festival. It happens in the village every summer.
g. I paid the bills. They came yesterday.
9. Complete the conversation by putting who or which into the gaps.
Carol: Did you watch that programme last night?
David: Which one?
Carol: The programme which I mentioned a couple of days ago. It’s a new series __________ started last
David: No, I didn’t see it. Was it good?
Carol: Yes. It was about a group of friends __________ were at school together. Well, Rupert ...
David: Who was Rupert?
Carol: He was an old student of the school __________ had become a doctor. He went to a party
__________ his old teachers organised. He met a lot of people __________ had been at school with him
many years before. They talked about the things __________ they did when they were at school. Then
suddenly, Rupert saw an old girl-friend __________ was dancing with John ...
David: Don’t tell me any more. It’s getting too complicated!
10. Join these sentences using who, which or that, as in the example.
a. She chose the books. She wanted to buy them. She chose the books that she wanted to buy.
b. We ate the sandwiches. Jack made them.
c. I’m doing some work. I have to finish it today.
d. She’s an old woman. I often see her when I go to the shop.
e. He’s an actor. A lot of people like him.
f. It’s a magazine. I read it sometimes.
g. She was wearing a red dress. She wears it for parties.
11. Now join these sentences using who or which, as in the example.
a. The person phoned. He didn’t leave a message. The person who phoned didn’t leave a message.
b. The bus goes to the airport. It leaves every 20 minutes.
c. The picture was hanging near the door. It was horrible.
ENGLISH GRAMMAR Relative Clauses
d. The instructor taught me how to drive. He was very patient.
e. The girl was sitting next to me. She started talking to me.
12. Complete the sentences using the information in brackets and who or which.
a. (I went to see a doctor. She had helped my mother.) I went to see the doctor who had helped my
b. (A dog bit me. It belonged to Mrs Jones.) The dog ___________________________ belonged to Mrs
c. (A woman wrote to me. She wanted my advice.) The woman ____________________________
wanted my advice.
d. (A bus crashed. It was 23 years old.) The bus ______________________________ was 23 years old.
e. (Ann talked to a man. He had won a lot of money.) Ann talked to a man ______________________
f. (Mary was staying with her friend. He has a big house in Scotland.) Mary was staying with a friend
g. (He’s an architect. He designed the new city library.) He’s the architect _______________________
13. Complete the sentences using the information in brackets and that.
a. (Jack made a table. It’s not very strong.) The table that Jack made is not very strong.
b. (I read about a new computer. I had seen it on TV.) I read about the new computer _____________
c. (Jane made a cake. Nobody liked it.) Nobody liked the cake _________________________________
d. (Mary sent me a letter. It was very funny.) The letter _________________________ was very funny.
e. (My sister wrote an article. The newspaper is going to publish it.) The newspaper is going to publish
the article ____________________________________________.
f. (I met an old lady. She was 103 years old.) The old lady _____________________ was 103 years old.
g. (I saw a house. My brother wants to buy it.) I saw the house ________________________________
14. Complete the sentences with one of the phrases in the box and who or whose.
interviewed me has visited so many different countries
had saved their son wives have just had babies
book won a prize last week divorce was in the papers
car had broken down complain all the time
a. The parents thanked the woman who had saved their son.
b. The couple whose divorce was in the papers have got married again.
c. It is very interesting to meet somebody _________________________________________________
d. The person _______________________________________ asked me some very difficult questions.
e. In my office the are two men _________________________________________________________
f. What’s the name of that writer ______________________________________________________?
g. I don’t like people __________________________________________________________________
h. We helped the woman ______________________________________________________________
15. Put in who or that ONLY IF NECESSARY.
a. The match ----- we saw was boring.
b. Did I tell you about the people who live next door?
c. The horse that won the race belongs to an Irish woman.
d. I love the ice-cream ___________ they sell in that shop.
e. The book ___________ I’m reading is about jazz.
f. The woman ___________ came to see us was selling magazines.
g. We’ll go to a restaurant ___________ has a children’s menu.
h. The factory ___________ closed last week had been there for 70 years.
i. Have you read about the schoolgirl __________ started her own business and is now a millionaire?
j. Jane says that the house ___________ Tom has bought has a beautiful garden.
16. Make one sentence from the two that are given. Use who or which with the underlined words.
a. Mont Blanc is between France and Italy. It is the highest mountain in the Alps.
Mont Blanc, which is between France and Italy, is the highest mountain in the Alps.
b. Alfred Hitchcock was born in Britain. He worked for many years in Hollywood.
c. The sun is really a star. It is 93 million miles from the earth
d. John F Kennedy died in 1963. He was a very famous American President.
e. Charlie Chaplin was from a poor family. He became a very rich man.
f. The 1992 Olympics were held in Barcelona. It is the north-east of Spain.
g. We went to see the Crown Jewels. They are kept in the Tower of London.
17. From the notes, make one sentence. Use who or which with the words in brackets.
a. Greta Garbo. (She was born in Sweden.) She moved to America in 1925.
Greta Garbo, who was born in Sweden, moved to America in 1925.
b. Football. (It first started in Britain.) It is now popular in many countries.
c. Margaret Thatcher. (She was the Prime Minister of Britain for 11 years.) She studied science at
d. Michelangelo. (He lived until he was 90.) He is one of Italy’s greatest artists.
e. The Nile. (It runs through several countries.) It is the longest river in Africa.
f. Gandhi. (He was born in1869.) He became India’s nationalist leader.
g. Elephants. (They are found in Africa and India.) They live to a great age.
18. From the notes make one sentence. Use who or whose with the words in brackets.
a. Martina Navratilova. (She was born in Prague.) She became a US citizen in 1981.
b. Darwin. (His ideas changed our view of the world.) He travelled to a lot of countries when he was
ENGLISH GRAMMAR Relative Clauses
c. Madonna. (Her parents were born in Italy.) She is a famous American singer.
d. Bill Clinton. (His wife is a brilliant lawyer.) He became President of the USA in 1993.
e. Sebastian Coe. (He was a successful English runner.) He is now a politician.
f. Catherine of Russia. (She ruled for over 30 years.) She made many important changes.
19. Underline the words that which refers to.
a. They climbed Snowdon, which is the highest mountain in Wales.
b. They climbed Snowdon, which made them very tired.
c. Maria sang and played the guitar, which everyone enjoyed a lot.
d. The boat stopped at Souse, which is in Tunisia.
e. The coach stopped at a petrol station, which allowed everyone to get out.
f. We listened to the news, which was in French.
20. Add the missing relative, but make a contact-clause where possible.
a. I know a man ____________ eats paper.
b. The man ____________ you want has just left.
c. It’s a kind of paper ____________ you can eat.
d. The lady ____________ was here yesterday has gone out.
e. He eats only the paper ____________ his wife makes.
f. The magazine ____________ you lent me was very old.
g. His wife is a woman ____________ loves a joke.
h. The chair ____________ was broken is now mended.
i. He’s one of the people ____________ I really like.
j. The old man ____________ lives next door has just died.
k. You can write on the paper ____________ she makes.
l. Women ____________ work in hospitals are admired.
m. Has this paper got a flavour ____________ pleases you?
n. The cigarette ____________ you are smoking is a Player’s.
o. Have you met anyone else ____________ does such tricks?
p. The girl ____________ lives next door is very pretty.
q. I’m looking for someone ____________. I can trust.
r. The fish ____________ I ate yesterday was not so good.
s. I want to find a man ____________ will lend me money.
t. The street ____________ leads to the school is very wide.
21. Correct the errors in these sentences.
a. Joan won the prize, that surprised me a lot.
b. The children, that were playing football, broke one of my windows.
c. The house in that I was born has just been demolished.
d. Fred is the man who he lives next door.
e. The books which they are on the table are mine.
f. I can’t remember the name of the person from who I borrowed this pen.
22. Rewrite these sentences omitting the relative pronoun. Other changes are necessary.
a. This is the box in which I had put my English books. This is the box I had put my English books in.
b. The man with whom she had lunch yesterday is her boss.
c. The knife with which you are cutting the meat belonged to my great grandmother.
d. The company for which he works has gone bankrupt.
e. We didn’t recognize the people at whom we were looking.
f. I can’t remember the person from whom I took the money.
23. Complete the sentences with relative pronouns.
a. Christopher Columbus was the sailor who/that discovered America.
b. This food has an ingredient ________________ is very sweet.
c. The lady ________________ son plays football with me is the headteacher of my school.
d. The house ________________ I was born is now for sale.
e. Antonio Banderas, _______________ is married to Melanie Griffith, was born in Málaga.
f. D.H. Lawrence, _______________ was an English author, wrote many interesting novels.
g. London, ________________ is on the river Thames, is the capital of the United Kingdom.
h. The Prado Museum, ________________ is in Madrid, is one of the best art galleries in the world.
24. Join each pair of sentences with a relative clause. Omit the relative pronouns wherever possible.
a. Last night we met a man. He’s a millionaire. Last night we met a man who/that is a millionaire.
b. Yesterday we found a wallet. It was empty.
c. We like cereals. Well, if they are wholemeal.
d. Michaelangelo was a famous artist. He painted the Sistine Chapel.
e. She’s bought a CD. It is broken.
f. I had won some money. I spent it on a new bike.
25. Join each pair of sentences using non-defining relative clauses.
a. Madonna is a popular pop singer and actress. She was born in the USA.
Madonna, who was born in the USA, is a popular pop singer and actress.
Madonna, who is a popular pop singer and actress, was born in the USA.
b. My grandparents live in Córdoba. They are school teachers.
c. Victoria Station is situated near Buckingham Palace. It is one of the most famous railway stations in
d. “Guernica” was painted by Picasso. It is permanently exhibited in Madrid.
e. My friend Luis has lived in many exotic countries. He works for the government.
f. Sharon is a wonderful cook. She’s married with two children.