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Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are added to main clauses to tell us more information.

1. Review: different types of clauses

  1. The main clause (independent clause)
  2. Surrounding clauses (dependent clause)

An independent clause can be a sentence by itself.
A dependent clause cannot be a sentence by itself. It must connect to an independent clause.

Independent clauseDependent clauseFull sentence
I like chickenbecause it is deliciousI like chicken because it is delicious.
Sienna plays badmintonalthough she is not very good at itSienna plays badminton although she is not very good at it.
Terry builds cars1. and makes model railways
2. because he likes technical projects
Terry builds cars and makes model railways
because he likes technical projects.

2. Relative clauses

Relative clauses add more information about the main clause or the noun in the main clause.

They can be made by:
1. relative pronoun + subject + verb
2. relative adverb + subject + verb
3. relative pronoun acting as subject + verb

3. Relative pronoun + subject + verb

Relative pronouns: what, which, who

Independent clauseRelative pronounSubjectVerb + extraFull sentence
Dave and Anna live in the old housethat
his grandmaleft himDave and Anna live in the old house that his grandma left him.
The car broke down last nightwhichyougave meI don’t like the car which you gave me.
I want to know the personwhogave you these shoes I want to know the person who gave you these shoes.

4. Relative adverb + subject + verb

Relative adverbs: when, why, where

Independent clauseRelative adverbSubjectVerb + extraFull sentence
Dave and Anna live in the old housewherehegrew upDave and Anna live in the old house where he grew up.

I don’t like itwhenthe carbreaks downI don’t like it when the car breaks down.
I want to knowwherethis manlivesI want to know where this man lives.

5. Relative pronoun acting as subject + verb

Relative pronouns: what, which, who

Independent clauseRelative pronoun acting as subjectVerb + extraFull sentence
Dave and Anna live in an old housethatfrightens childrenDave and Anna live in an old house that frightens children.
I don’t want a carthatbreaks down all the timeI don’t want a car that breaks all the time.
I want to know the manwhothinks giving gifts to my wife is OKI want to know the man who thinks giving gifts to my wife is OK.

6. Relating to the whole clause vs. relating to the noun

If the relative clause relates to the whole main clause, put it after the main clause.

If the relative clause relates only to the noun in the main clause, put it after the noun.

Relates to whole clauseRelates only to noun
The man is an idiot who thinks he is smart.The man to whom we gave our dog is an idiot.
The house is damaged where the roof is leaking.The house that we bought with our lottery money is damaged.

7. Formal Language

  1. In formal language, ‘whom’ replaces ‘who’.
  2. Prepositions, in phrases like ‘upon which’ and ‘to whom’, are put in front of relative clauses to make them formal. Informal language often puts these at the end
InformalFormal
The man who he was speaking to was most unpleasant.The man to whom he was speaking was most unpleasant.
The boat that we sailed on was very nice.The boat upon which we sailed was very nice.
The man that we bought the house from was quite old.The man from whom we bought the house was quite old.

8. Exercises

Add relative clauses to these main clauses:

1. She and I are best friends.
2. The bag is next to the sofa.
3. The TV show was interesting.
4. He cooked a delicious meal.
5. The city is dirty.

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