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Relative clauses

 
 
 

Grammatical form

noun (+ relative pronoun) + relative clause

I've got a book that had a complete list of irregular verbs.
This is the book we use in our English class.

noun, + relative pronoun + relative clause , + main clause

My English textbook, which I bought last summer, was quite expensive.

main clause, + relative pronoun + relative clause

He was reading a book, which was very unusual.


 
 

General usage

Relative clauses contain information about nouns. There are two main types: defining and non-defining. The form and usage of each is quite different.

Have you seen the book that I was reading this morning?

This is a defining relative clause and contains information about the noun book

The River Nile, which is over 6,500 kilometres long, is Egypt's main source of water.

This is a non-defining relative clause and contains information about the noun the River Nile.
The information in the first example, that I was reading this morning, identifies the book - it tells us which book. The information in the second example, which is over 6,500 kilometres long is extra information.
The main differences between the two types of clauses are summarized below.
 

Defining and non-defining relative clauses

Defining relative clausesNon-defining relative clauses
  • identify a noun - i.e. say which person, place, thing etc. is meant
  • are not separated by commas
  • use the pronouns which or that for things and who or that for people
  • can be formed without a relative pronoun when the pronoun is not the subject of the relative clause
  • cannot be removed from a sentence, otherwise the sentence will be ungrammatical or unclear
  • are common in both spoken and written English
  • give extra information about a person, place, thing etc.
  • are separated by commas
  • do not use that as a relative pronoun

  • are always formed with a relative pronoun

  • can be removed from a sentence and the sentence will still be grammatical

  • are more common in written English and formal spoken English (speeches, TV news reports etc.)


For more, see detailed notes on each type of relative clause:
defining relative clauses
non-defining relative clauses
 

 

 

 

ESL quizzes for Relative clauses
quiz
Relative clauses and pronouns
Ten-question multiple-choice quiz testing both defining and non-defining clauses

ESL lesson plans

How Donald Trump got rich: a tale of three Trumps

US Election ESL worksheet 1 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 2 Donald Trump worksheet 3 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 4 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 5 Donald Trump ESL worksheet 6
B1 / B2 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; role play Vocabulary: business and economics

Download A Tale of Three Trumps for B1/B2 (PDF)
C1 Complete lesson Skills: split reading; discussion; Grammar: participle clauses

Download A Tale of Three Trumps for C1 (PDF)
 

US Election Special 2016

US Election ESL worksheet 1 US Election ESL worksheet 2 US Election ESL worksheet 3 US Election ESL worksheet 4
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary: politics, elections; skills: discussing elections and issues.

Download Politics and the US Election (PDF)
 

Wear high heels or go home: gender discrimination at work

Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 1 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 2 Gender descrimination ESL worksheet 3
B2/C1 Complete lesson Vocabulary work clothes; skills: gender discrimination; grammar: reported speech.

Download Workplace gender discrimination (PDF)
 

English grammar notes

Comparison with as...as

Comprehensive grammar reference notes, illustrated.
Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 1 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 2 Grammar notes on comparison with as..as 3
Download English grammar notes: comparison with as...as (PDF)