Grammar. 07.12.2010
Grammar Teacher

Relative clauses

Автор: Grammar Teacher

 To begin with, I’d like to ask you if you see any difference between the following two sentences, apart from the fact that in the second one commas are used:  My aunt who is from Athens is coming to visit me next week and  My aunt, who is from Athens, is coming to visit me next week. The humble comma can make important differences in the meaning of a sentence. In this post I’ll show you examples of this in something called a “relative clause”. The term is a bit technical, but you’ll see that it’s something that you use many times a day.

We use relative clauses to give additional information about something without starting another sentence. By combining sentences with a relative clause, your text becomes more fluent and you can avoid repeating certain words.

1. How to Form Relative Clauses

Imagine, a girl is talking to Tom. You want to know who she is and ask a friend whether he knows her. You could say:

A girl is talking to Tom. Do you know the girl?

That sounds rather complicated, doesn't it? It would be easier with a relative clause: you put both pieces of information into one sentence. Start with the most important thing  – you want to know who the girl is.

Do you know the girl …

As your friend cannot know which girl you are talking about, you need to put in the additional information  – the girl is talking to Tom. Use „the girl“ only in the first part of the sentence, in the second part replace it with the relative pronoun (for people, use the relative pronoun „who“). So the final sentence is:

Do you know the girl who is talking to Tom?

Relative clauses are subordinate clauses that modify a noun. Here is one more example:

John read the book that Mary loaned to him.

The underlined words are a relative clause. It exists only in relation to the noun "book", which it modifies.

2. Defining and Non-Defining Relative Clause

There are two types of relative clauses. One is a defining (specifying) clause. The other is a clause that only describes (non-defining).

The information provided in a defining relative clause is crucial in understanding the meaning of the sentence.

Examples:

The woman who lives in apartment No. 34 has been arrested.
The document that I need has 'important' written at the top.

I will not be able to make the flight for Toronto that leaves at 4:30 this afternoon.

In the last example the speaker is specifying which of a number of flights from Toronto that she will not be able to make: the one that leaves at 4:30 this afternoon.

The purpose of a defining relative clause is to clearly define who or what we are talking about. Without this information, it would be difficult to know who or what is meant.

Example: The house is being renovated. In this case it is not necessarily clear which house is being renovated.

Defining relative clauses are not put in commas.

Non-defining relative clauses provide interesting additional information which is not essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence.

Examples:

Mrs. Jackson, who is very intelligent, lives on the corner.

Ann spent all afternoon in her office, which is not air conditioned.

 

In the last sentence the underlined clause simply tells us more information about

Ann's office. It doesn't tell us in which office she spent the afternoon. That has been defined already by the word "her".

 So how do you tell the difference between specifying and describing clauses? It's easy:

• Defining clauses are never preceded by a comma.

• Describing clauses are always preceded by a comma (and followed by a comma when the clause occurs in the middle of a sentence).

Let’s return to the sentences I’ve mentioned in the beginning.

Defining Clauses

Describing Clauses

My aunt who is from Athens is coming to visit me next week.

Meaning:

I have a number of aunts. Therefore

I have to specify which one is coming

to visit me next week, not merely describe her. It’s the aunt from Athens who is coming visit.

My aunt, who is from, is Athens, coming to visit me next week.

Meaning:

I have only one aunt. She is coming to visit me next week. By the way, you might also be interested to know that she lives in Athens. Because I have only one aunt, I am only describing her here. I do not need to specify which aunt she is.

3. WHICH, THAT OR . . . ?

Grammarians love to argue about which pronouns belong in what kind of relative clause. However, for our purposes, the rules are fairly simple. The chart below gives you a quick guide to the pronouns to use in various situations.

relative pronoun

use

example

who

for people

I told you about the woman who lives next door.

which

for animals and things

Do you see the cat which is lying on the roof?

which

referring to a whole sentence

He couldn’t read which surprised me.

whose

possession for people animals and things

Do you know the boy whose mother is a nurse?

whom

object pronoun for people, especially in non-defining relative clauses (in defining relative clauses we colloquially prefer who)

I was invited by the professor whom I met at the conference.

that

for people, animals and things in defining relative clauses (who or which are also possible)

I don’t like the table that stands in the kitchen.























“Which” or “That”?

Look at these 2 pictures:

    

               Pic.1. The horse which/that is white costs $10.00.   Pic.2. The horse, which is white, costs $10.00.

In picture 1 we’re looking at 2 horses. I want you to know which one costs $10.00. It is the one that’s white. In this case, you have a choice. You could use either “which” or “that” without. changing the meaning. I prefer “that”, because it helps to make it clear that I’m specifying, not just describing. Note also the lack of commas here.

In picture 2  There is only one horse. It costs $10.00. By the way, it is white. In this case, you have no choice. You must use “which”. Note also the use of commas here.

A relative adverb can be used instead of a relative pronoun plus preposition. This often makes the sentence easier to understand.

This is the shop in which I bought my bike. → This is the shop where I bought my bike.

relative adverb

meaning

use

example

when

in/on which

refers to a time expression

the day when we met him

where

in/at which

refers to a place

the place where we met him

why

for which

refers to a reason

the reason why we met him

In this episode you will learn how to use defining relative clauses:



4. MISSING PRONOUNS

The usual identifier for a relative clause is a relative pronoun (“which”, “that”,

“who”, etc.). However, it is also common for the relative pronoun to be dropped, even though it’s still implicit in the sentence.

-    The question that was discussed in May has come out again.The question discussed in May has come out again.

-     I told you about the woman who lives next door.  I told you about the woman living next door.

-     Do you see the cat which is lying on the roof? Do you see the cat lying on the roof?

This phenomenon is called Reduced relative clauses. In the video below you will find more examples.


 

 That’s it for today! Thank you for staying on!

 

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