Relative clauses

Relative clauses help to connect two separate ideas which might be expressed in two separate sentences.

I've just failed my driving test. It's a pity

I've just failed my driving test, which is a pity

Defining Relative Clauses

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

It was a record which/that marked an entire generation

Non-defining relative clauses

Non-defining relative clauses provide interesting additional information which is not essential to understanding the meaning of the sentence. In written English, this kind of clause is separated by commas, or between a comma and a full stop.

My brother, who works in London, has got a new job

Omitting the pronoun and prepositions

Only possible in defining relative clauses. If there is a subject pronoun after the relative pronoun, we can omit it.

He is not someone who I really get on with (He is not someone with whom I really get on)

That's the house I used to live in (That's the house in which I used to live in)

When / Where /Why
  • In non-defining clauses they follow a named time or place.

Come back at 3.30, when I won't be so busy

  • In defining clauses
    • When : after words such as time, day, moment

There is hardly a moment when I don't think of you

    • where: after words such as place, house, street

This is the street where I live

  • After reason, we can use why/that or no pronoun.

Does anyone know the reason (why / that) crime is so high?


We can use which to talk about a whole clause not just a noun phrase.

There was nobody left on the train, which made me suspicious

We can use which after prepositions and before nouns in fixed phrases like in which case, the chance of which, at which time.

It would seem that the guilty person has been found, in which case you are free to go.

Who / Whom / Whose

We usually use who as subject and object in relative clauses, but we can use whom in formal written language. We use Whom not who after prepositions.

Mr Brown, who/whom the police suspect of arson, was released without charge

He was a person whom everyone regarded as trustworthy

To whom it may concern

Mr Brown, to whom the police gave a caution, was held overnight. (NOT to who)

Whose means "of whom" and it is used in both defining and non-defining clauses.

Several guests, whose cars were parked outside, were waiting at the door.

The old lady whose bag was taken was really upset.

What / Whatever / Whoever / Wherever /Whenever

What is not a relative pronoun. We use it as a noun to mean "the thing that"

I don't understand what you are saying

We use whatever, whoever, wherever, whenever to mean "the thing that" "the person who" ...

You can rely on Helen to do whatever she can

Whoever arrives first can turn on the heating

We can leave whenever you like.

Wherever you go, I will follow you

None of Whom / All of Which / Some of Whose

We can use quantifiers like some, none and few with of whom, of which, and of whose in non-defining relative clauses

Three suspects were interviewed, all of whom were released without charge

She bought three used games, one of which was defective

 We usually put prepositions at the end of relative clauses, but we can put them before the relative pronoun in formal language.

Prison is not the kind of place that you would want to spend time in

Prison is not the kind of place in which you would want to spend time