Relative clauses

Relative clauses
A relative clause is a subordinate clause which gives more information about someone or something mentioned in the main clause. The relative clause comes immediately after the noun which refers to the person or thing being talked about.

The man who came into the room was small and slender.

Opposite is St. Paul's Church, where you can hear some lovely music.

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relative pronouns
Many relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun. The relative pronouns are:
that, which, who, whom
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The relative pronoun usually acts as the subject or object of a verb in the relative clause.

...a girl who wanted to go to college.

There was so much that she wanted to ask.

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There are two kinds of relative clause: defining relative clauses and non-defining relative clauses.
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defining relative clauses
Defining relative clauses give information that helps to identify the person or thing being spoken about. For example, in the sentence `The woman who owned the shop was away', the defining relative clause `who owned the shop' makes it clear which particular woman is being referred to.

The man who you met yesterday was my brother.

The car which crashed into me belonged to Paul.

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Defining relative clauses are sometimes called identifying relative clauses.
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referring to people
When you are referring to a person or group of people in a defining relative clause, you use `who' or `that' as the subject of the defining clause.

The man who employed me would transport anything anywhere.

...the people who live in the cottage.

He was the man that bought my house.

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You use `who', `that', or `whom' as the object of a defining clause.

...someone who I haven't seen for a long time.

...a woman that I dislike.

...distant relatives whom he had never seen.

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Note that `whom' is a formal word. See entry at ↑ who - whom.
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referring to things
When you are referring to a thing or group of things, you use `which' or `that' as the subject or object of a defining clause.

...pasta which came from Milan.

There are a lot of things that are wrong.

...shells which my sister has collected.

The thing that I really liked about it was its size.

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not using a relative pronoun
You do not have to use a relative pronoun as the object of the verb in a defining relative clause. For example, instead of saying `a woman that I dislike', you can say `a woman I dislike'.

The woman you met yesterday lives next door.

The car I wanted to buy was not for sale.

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The relative pronoun in a relative clause acts as the subject or object of the clause. This means that you should not add another pronoun as the subject or object. For example, you say `There are a lot of people that want to be rich'. You do not say `There are a lot of people that they want to be rich'.
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Similarly, you say `This is the book which I bought yesterday'. You do not say `This is the book which I bought it yesterday'. Even if you do not use a relative pronoun, as in `This is the book I bought yesterday', you do not put in another pronoun.
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non-defining relative clauses
Non-defining relative clauses are used to give further information about someone or something, not to identify them. For example, in `I'm writing to my mother, who's in hospital', the relative clause `who's in hospital' gives more information about `my mother' and is not used to indicate which mother you mean.

He was waving to the girl, who was running along the platform.

He walked down to Broadway, the main street of the town, which ran parallel to the river.

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Note that you put a comma in front of a non-defining relative clause.
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referring to people
When a non-defining clause relates to a person or group of people, you use `who' as the subject of the clause, or `who' or `whom' as the object of the clause.

Heath Robinson, who died in 1944, was a graphic artist and cartoonist.

I was in the same group as Janice, who I like a lot.

She was engaged to a sailor, whom she had met at Dartmouth.

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referring to things
When a non-defining clause relates to a thing or a group of things, you use `which' as the subject or object.

I am teaching at the Selly Oak Centre, which is just over the road.

He was a man of considerable inherited wealth, which he ultimately spent on his experiments.

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You cannot use `that' to begin a non-defining relative clause. For example, you cannot say `She sold her car, that she had bought the year before'. You must say `She sold her car, which she had bought the year before'.
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Non-defining clauses cannot be used without a relative pronoun. For example, you cannot say `She sold her car, she had bought the year before'.
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referring to a situation
Non-defining relative clauses beginning with `which' can be used to say something about the whole situation described in the main clause.

I never met Brando again, which was a pity.

Small computers need only small amounts of power, which means that they will run on small batteries.

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prepositions with relative pronouns
In both types of relative clause, a relative pronoun can be the object of a preposition. In conversation, the preposition usually comes at the end of the clause, with no noun group after it.

I wanted to do the job which I'd been trained for.

...the world that you are interacting with.

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Often, in a defining relative clause, no relative pronoun is used.

...the pages she was looking at.

I'd be wary of anything Matt Davis is involved with.

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In formal English, the preposition comes in front of the relative pronoun `whom' or `which'.

I have at last met John Parr's tenant, about whom I have heard so much.

He was asking questions to which there were no answers.

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If the verb in a relative clause is a phrasal verb ending with a preposition, you cannot move the preposition to the beginning of the clause. For example, you cannot say `all the things with which I have had to put up'. You have to say `all the things I've had to put up with'.

...the delegates she had been looking after.

Everyone I came across seemed to know about it.

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Note that a non-defining relative clause can begin with a preposition, `which', and a noun. The only common expressions of this kind are `in which case', `by which time', and `at which point'.

It may be that your circumstances are different or unusual, in which case we can ensure that you have taken the right action.

Leave the whole thing to cool down for two hours, by which time the spices should have thoroughly flavoured the vinegar.

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'of whom' and 'of which'
Words such as `some', `many', and `most' can be put in front of `of whom' or `of which' at the beginning of a non-defining relative clause. You do this to give information about part of the group just mentioned.

At the school we were greeted by the teachers, most of whom were middle-aged.

It is a language shared by several quite diverse cultures, each of which uses it differently.

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Numbers can be put in front of `of whom' or `of which' or, more formally, after these phrases.

They act mostly on suggestions from present members (four of whom are women).

Altogether 1,888 people were prosecuted, of whom 1,628 were convicted.

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'whose' in relative clauses
When you want to talk about something belonging or relating to a person, thing, or group, you use a defining or non-defining relative clause beginning with `whose' and a noun.

...workers whose bargaining power is weak.

According to Cook, whose book is published on Thursday, most disasters are avoidable.

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Some people think it is incorrect to use `whose' to indicate that something belongs or relates to a thing. See entry at ↑ whose.
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'when', 'where', and 'why'
`When', `where', and `why' can be used in defining relative clauses after certain nouns. `When' is used after `time' and other time words, `where' is used after `place' or place words, and `why' is used after `reason'.

This is one of those occasions when I regret not being able to drive.

That was the room where I did my homework.

There are several reasons why we can't do that.

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`When' and `where' can be used in non-defining relative clauses after expressions of time and place.

This happened in 1957, when I was still a baby.

She has just come back from a holiday in Crete, where Alex and I went last year.

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referring to the future
In a defining relative clause, you sometimes use the simple present tense and sometimes use `will' when referring to the future. See section on present tenses in subordinate clauses in entry at ↑ The Future.
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Useful english dictionary. 2012.

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