Restrictive Relative Clauses
A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a predicate (a verb and its objects, etc.). Sentences are composed of one or more clauses. Simple sentences have only one clause.
A relative clause (also called a defining clause, a limiting clause, or an adjective clause) is a clause that begins with a relative pronoun or a relative adverb and which modifies the noun that it follows. A relative clause tells us which or what kind of person or thing we are talking about. It identifies the noun (describes it, makes it more specific). A relative clause comes immediately after the noun that it modifies.
The relative pronouns are who, whom, which, whose, what1, and that.
Formation of Relative Clauses
Perhaps the simplest way to view relative clauses is as a combination of two sentences joined by a relative pronoun that replaces part of the second sentence.
Consider the following two sentences:
|Mr. Greene||bought||a house.||The house||used to belong to||Al Capone.|
Since house is repeated in the second sentence, we can combine the two sentences by substituting that or which for the word house. This sounds much better than two separate sentences.
|Mr. Greene||bought||a house||that
|used to belong to||Al Capone.|
Notice that house is the object (O) of the first sentence and the subject (S) of the second sentence. We say our example sentence has the pattern OS (Object Subject) because we changed the subject of the second sentence to a relative pronoun and made a relative clause that modifies the object of the first sentence.
Notice also that the relative pronoun replaces the
word it refers to. Look at the following example:
Mary spoke to the boy. She knew him.
We do not say "Mary spoke to the boy that she knew him," but rather "Mary spoke to the boy that she knew." The relative pronoun replaces the word him.
Patterns of Relative Clauses
There are four basic patterns of relative clauses:
OS (Object Subject)
OO (Object Object)
SS (Subject Subject)
SO (Subject Object)
Uses of the Relative Pronouns
Who and whom are used for people. In formal English, who is used for the subject and whom is used for the object. In informal English, who is used for both subject and object.
Which is used for things. Which tends to be more formal than that.
That is used for both people and things. It is much more common in speech than which.
OS Pattern with who, which, and that
|I||know||a man.||The man||collects||stamps.|
|My friend Alex||bought||a car.||The car||has||leather upholstery.|
|My friend Alex||bought||a car||that
OO Pattern with who, whom, which, and that
|I||know||the professor.||The university||hired||him.|
|I||bought||the book.||The professor||wrote||the book.|
SS Pattern with who, which, and that
|The woman||bought||a new house.||The woman||won||the lottery.|
|won||the lottery||bought||a new house.|
|The dog||destroyed||my garden.||The dog||dug||that hole.|
|dug||that hole||destroyed||my garden.|
SO Pattern with who, whom, which, and that
|The doctor||won||the Nobel prize.||You||met||the doctor.|
|you||met||won||the Nobel prize.|
|The dog||destroyed||my garden.||Mr. Thomas||bought||the dog.|
|Mr. Thomas||bought||destroyed||my garden.|
Notice that we can omit the relative pronoun when it replaces the object, but not when it replaces the subject.
The Relative Pronoun whose
Formation of clauses with whose
1. Replace the possessive in the second sentence with whose.
2. Place whose + the following noun at the beginning of sentence two.
3. Place the modified sentence after the noun in sentence one that whose refers to.
The relative pronoun whose can never be omitted.
OS Pattern with whose
|I||met||a man.||His daughter||translates||medical textbooks.|
|I||met||a man||whose daughter||translates||medical textbooks.|
OO Pattern with whose
|Dr. Jones||recommended||a specialist.||I||trust||the specialist's opinion.|
|Dr. Jones||recommended||a specialist||whose opinion||I||trust.|
SS Pattern with whose
|The doctor||received||an award.||Her son||teaches||French.|
|The doctor||whose son||teaches||French||received||an award.|
SO Pattern with whose
|The man||won||the lottery.||I||bought||his house.|
|The man||whose house||I||bought||won||the lottery.|
Whose is used for people, animals, and and often
for things. Formal written English tends to prefer of
which for things. Spoken English prefers whose. If we use of which, we have to
use the before the noun.The pattern is:
Noun1 + the + Noun2 + of which + Verb etc.
A book the pages of which had turned brown with age lay open on the desk.
A book whose pages had turned brown with age lay open on the desk.
We can sometimes replace whose with the preposition
A book with brown pages lay open on the desk.
...we were near the top of a steep rising hill, on the summit of which [on whose summit] was such a castle....
...the very existence of which [whose very existence] I had never known.
...the very names of which [whose very names] I did not know at the time....
Of which does not always mean whose. It is sometimes simply the preposition of + which:
This is the book of which I spoke. = This is the book which I spoke of.
Omission of the Relative Pronoun
A mentioned above, the relative pronouns who, which, and that can be omitted in restrictive relative clauses if they replace the object [Patterns OO and SO]. If they replace the subject [Patterns OS and SS], they cannot be omitted.
If possible, we usually prefer to omit the relative pronoun in speech. But if the omission would cause confusion, we do not omit it. Formal English does not usually omit the relative pronoun.
I know the professor [that] the university hired. [OO]
The doctor [that] you met won the Nobel prize. [SO]
Reduction of Relative Clauses
We can omit that is/are and that was/were in restrictive relative clauses.
I have a teacher [that is] from Spain.
I have to return the books [that are] on the coffee table.
Professor Jenkins was a man [that was] known for his sense of humor.
The young man [that was] driving the car didn't have any insurance.
The bus [that was] carrying the musicians arrived an hour late.
I received a mysterious note [that was] written in pencil.
The museum exhibited a bird cage [that was] made of solid gold.
We can change that has/have/had to with in restrictive relative clauses.
My friend Alex bought a car that has leather
My friend Alex bought a car with leather upholstery.
Professor Wilson collects books that have old
Professor Wilson collects books with old maps.
Did you see the man that had the long beard?
Did you see the man with the long beard?
We sometimes change that is wearing to with in restrictive relative clauses.
Betty is the girl that is wearing sunglasses.
Betty is the girl with sunglasses.
If the person is wearing a suit, dress, sweater, etc., we often change that is wearing to in.
Who is the woman that is wearing the pink
Who is the woman in the pink sweater?
Do you know the man that is wearing the blue
Do you know the man in the blue suit?
We sometimes change that is carrying to with in restrictive relative clauses.
Who is the man that is carrying the
Who is the man with the briefcase?
The relative adverbs are where, when, and why.
The relative adverbs are used to replace
a preposition + the relative pronoun which.2
If you would like to practice relative clauses, click here.
1 What will be
2Table based on Thomson & Martinet, A Practical English Grammar, 2nd Edition, p. 37.
3Ø means we can omit the relative pronoun.