relative clauses>>grammar

defining relative clauses

 table 1

omission of relative pronouns: contact clauses

contact clauses using prepositional verbs


superlatives, 'all', everything +'that'.,

relative adverbs

omission of relative adverbs

non-defining relative clauses

 table 2



grammar index



Relative clauses use relative pronouns to determine or modify nouns in the sentence. So, it would be the same to say 

Well-built houses are more comfortable

than use a relative pronoun and say

Houses which are well-built are more comfortable 

This implies that only well-built houses are more comfortable, which brings  us to  a first distinction into:

a. defining relative clauses: give relevant information about the noun and admit omission

ex: Those children who are running in the first positions don't belong to our school

ex: The goats we saw yesterday evening must have escaped and become wild

So,  IN DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSES,  relative pronouns in different forms will come up  depending on two factors:

1. whether the antecedent of the relative pronoun functions as a: (top)

a. subject

b. object

c. possessor

d. adverbial entity


2. whether the antecedent is: 

a. person

b. thing

c. whole sentence

If we combine both criteria,  the following table can be created which displays the variety of relative pronouns in relative clauses. Follow the colours to see where each criteria falls in table1.(top)

  person thing whole sentence
subject WHO/THAT

She is the person who/that  repairs the computers.


That's the lorry which/that broke the traffic lights.


Living in boat, which many people find romantic, is humid sometimes


object -dir, indir, prepos-:contact clauses the preposition comes to the end 

superlatives and indefinites


 The hunters who/whom/that we heard last night have left.

or using  omission

 The hunters(---) we heard last night

That's the person (---) I talked to



That CD which/ that we bought yesterday didn't sound well


That  CD (---) we bought yesterday didn't sound well



possessive WHOSE 

Those children whose book has the wrong pages, please let me know


He's the guest whose car we had to wait for at the wedding


WHOSE ('of which'-less freq.)

They had to put away all the planes whose wings had been damaged by the typhoon 


omission of adverbials

  WHERE: The place where I was born is the coldest in Greece.

WHEN: Tell me the day when you want to leave.

WHY: That's (the reason) why I never go out at night



1. in contact clauses, whenever we have a prepositional verb and the antecedent is an object we have two possibilities

a. The person about whom we were talking suddenly appeared in the room

b. The person(----) we were talking about suddenly appeared in the room.

Observe that ----------------------------------about  comes  after the prepositional verb and the relative pronoun is lost.

c. also in sentences using whose:

ex: She's the boy whose sister I'm always thinking about       (top)

also in non-defining the preposition comes to the end, but the relative does not disappear :

Caesar, who our teacher used to talk to us about when we were at school, turned out to be a shy person.

2. it is also possible to omit relative adverbs

The place where I was born--------------The place I was born in or The place I was born


3. superlatives  always form contact clauses with omission:

ex: This is the coldest place I've ever visited

all, everything, anything + that  is also a very common structure

ex: My cat ate everything (that) I gave him: he was very hungry

ex: Anything (that)  I said was criticized, so I shut up.

(b a c k   to  t a b l e 1)



b. non-defining relative clauses: give additional information about the noun AND USE COMMAS. They DO NOT admit omission

ex: White sharks, which ,as you know, are the most dangerous , have tremendous strength in their jaws. 

This implies that all white sharks have very strong jaws and are obviously dangerous, which comes as something added

The relative pronouns can be organized in a similar table to the one above, but no omission or contact clauses can be found here.

Table 2


  person thing whole sentence
subject WHO

James, who has helped my brother with maths for years, has left school.


Lobsters, which are really cheap in the Caribbean, can be bought now for a reasonable price.


Living in boat, which many people find romantic, is humid sometimes


object (dir, indir, prepos): the preposition comes to the end 


Witches, who have been considered like evil for ages, are now fashionable


Mount Everest, which used to be a remote place, can now be reached on organized trips.

possessive WHOSE 

Mary, whose brother helped me with the plumbing yesterday, hasn't called me for ages.


WHOSE ('of which'-less freq.)

The Eiffel Tower, whose design was revolutionary at its time, is still a marvelous structure