go to non-defining relative clauses

Relative Clauses

A relative clause is ... a bit unclear. On the one hand it is the term for a complex sentence: A combination of a main clause and a subordinate clause.
On the other hand it is the name for that subordinate clause itself.
I could try and produce the final definition here and now, but then I think, why should I? A relative clause is only relatively clear, o.k.? Now let's get started.

Defining Relative Clause

To say it right at the beginning: All relative clauses provide some form of definition or extra information. In a defining relative clause, however, this piece of information is necessary to fully understand the meaning of the main clause. In a non-defining relative clause - follow link in upper right box - this is not the case.
In all relative clauses the subordinate clause adds additional information to the noun or pronoun which it follows. (And this, yes, was our first defining relative clause in this section.)

To add necessary information

This is the man who I met yesterday.

To combine two simpler sentences

1. The book is a best-seller.
2. I read it yesterday.
The book which I read yesterday is a best-seller.

  1. The tree is old. It is not green.
  2. The tree which is not green is old.

  3. The boy is my brother. He is playing with the turtle.
  4. The boy who is playing with the turtle is my brother.

  5. Over there is a big sign. It reads "danger".
  6. Over there is a big sign which reads "danger".

Relative Pronouns

The relative pronoun introduces the relative clause. It refers to the word to define in the main clause. The relative pronouns are

relative pronouns

The special form whom can also be used.

Interrogative Pronouns as Relative Pronouns

Like "who" in the list above, some other interrogative pronouns (where, when, why, how) can also be used as relative pronouns.


This is the place where we first met. (Very romantic.)
That was the day when she left me. (Not so romantic.)
My big dog can be a reason why she left me. (Or maybe it was you.)
I know a way how I can forget all this. (Good. So we can go on with our grammar session.)

Never use "what" as a relative pronoun.

This is the strict rule I learned at school myself. And then I found out this was not completely true. Click here to find what I found.

Nice Trick: Relative Clauses without Relative Pronouns

There is a way not to worry about the correct relative pronoun to choose: The contact construction. Are you interested? Move on this way here...

Another reason to hate prepositions

Prepositions always mean trouble, don't they? They don't follow clear rules themselves and try to destroy others. For our relative clauses the rule of thumb goes like this:

Does this sound confusing? The examples below will show you how easy it is.


In two sentences: There is the man on the news. We talked about him yesterday.
With relative clause:There is the man on the news about whom we talked yesterday.

In two sentences: The new book will be published soon. I am interested in this book.
With relative clause:The new book which I am interested in will be published soon.