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Relative Clauses

Sentence patterns: Relative clauses

A relative clause is a subordinate clause that begins with a question word (e.g. who, which, where) or the word that. You can use it to modify a noun or pronoun (i.e. to identify or give more information about it).

  • Students who can develop independent learning skills often achieve good academic results.
  • There is a new book that investigates the controversy over political reforms in Hong Kong.
  • A university is a place where people pursue advanced knowledge in specific academic disciplines.
  • The lecture theatre in which the inauguration ceremony will be held is now being cleaned.

1. Relative pronouns

Words like who, that and when are often referred to as relative pronouns when they are used to introduce relative clauses. You use:

  • who for people, which for things, and that for both people and things.
  • whom as the object of a relative clause (in more formal English), though it is increasingly common to replace it with who.
  • whose to indicate possession, as a determiner before nouns.

For example:

  • What’s the name of the person who/that first landed on the moon?
  • This is Dr. Perkins, whom we met at a conference in Canada last year.
  • All students whose registration numbers begin with 374 should immediately go to the library for a tour.


2. Types of relative clause

There are two types of relative clause: defining and non-defining. You use a defining (or restrictive) relative clause to ‘identify’ or ‘restrict the reference of’ a noun. You do not separate it from the rest of the sentence by commas (in text) or pauses (in speech).

  • The student who achieves the highest GPA score in this department will be awarded a prize of $20,000.
  • Computer games that involve fighting and shooting apparently have a negative effect on young people.

You use a non-defining (or non-restrictive) relative clause to supply additional information about the noun, whose identity or reference is already established. You can also use it to comment on the whole situation described in a main clause.

  • Albert Einstein, who put forward the theory of relativity, is considered by many as the most intelligent person in human history.
  • The ELC, which provides language support to PolyU students, is located in the AG wing.

You should not use the relative pronoun that in non-defining relative clauses.

3. Leaving relative pronouns out of relative clauses

You can sometimes omit the relative pronoun in a defining relative clause to create a more concise style. You cannot do this in a non-defining clause.

  • Half of the training sessions (that are) arranged for the athletes have been cancelled due to bad weather.
  • The designer (who/whom) you saw at the party last night is Giorgio Armani!
  • * 'The ELC, provides language support to PolyU students, is located in A core.' is not correct.

For details of adjective clauses, click here.

In the following questions the relative pronouns are missing. Edit the sentences, putting in suitable relative pronouns and any missing commas. After you finish them, click the 'Check All Answers' button to see the answers and feedback.

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Answer Key

Here are the answers:

1. Your answer is:

Answer:
The woman whose hair is long and curly is the new secretary, Mrs. Chan.

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2. Your answer is:

Answers:
Nearly all the proposals that the committee put forward have been accepted.
Nearly all the proposals which the committee put forward have been accepted.
Nearly all the proposals the committee put forward have been accepted.

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3. Your answer is:

Answers:
This is the book that has become a bestseller in recent years.
This is the book which has become a bestseller in recent years.

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4. Your answer is:

Answers:
Graduates who possess a strong academic background as well as good communication skills are favoured by employers.
Graduates that possess a strong academic background as well as good communication skills are favoured by employers.

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5. Your answer is:

Answer:
Mosquitoes, which are small two-winged insects, can spread fatal diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

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6. Your answer is:

Answer:
The government officials to whom we spoke last week were completely unaware of the urgency of the matter.

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7. Your answer is:

Answer:
That horrible incident occurred in 1967, when I was still a baby.

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8. Your answer is:

Answers:
There’s a football match on television tomorrow that I think you shouldn’t miss.
There’s a football match on television tomorrow which I think you shouldn’t miss.
There’s a football match on television tomorrow I think you shouldn’t miss.

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9. Your answer is:

Answer:
The firm has decided to introduce a new round of pay cuts, which will doubtlessly be greeted with discontent and hostility.

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10. Your answer is:

Answers:
The new MP3 player that is produced by Sony has many useful functions.
The new MP3 player which is produced by Sony has many useful functions.
The new MP3 player, which is produced by Sony, has many useful functions.

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  Click here for more information on relative clauses.

 

Last updated on: Thursday, July 12, 2012