Ways to Remember Relative Clauses without Problems


Relative clauses are generally used to provide additional data about something without the necessity to start a different sentence. International students often find it hard to remember various existing rules of English grammar including the basic rules on relative clauses. However, it is of great importance to learn how to combine sentences with the help of relative clauses, because this is what will help you to make your writing more fluent and avoid repetition of certain phrases. First of all, it is important to remember how to form relative clauses in English language. There is a good exercise that will help you to manage with this task.

Imagine that some girl is chatting with Jack. What you want to learn is who this girl is. What would you do? It is likely that you will ask your friend whether he or she knows this girl. This can be done in the following way:

  • Some girl is chatting with Jack. Do you know that girl?

Such phrasing sounds too complicated. That is why it would be much easier to put the two segments of information into one sentence. You should therefore start with the most important piece of information. As you want to find out who that girl is, you need to start the sentence from this particular part. It would sound like: “Do you know the girl…”

Because the person whom you are asking a question does not know which particular girl you are asking about, you should add some additional facts – the girl that is chatting with Jack. You need to use “the girl” only in the initial part of the phrase, while the other part should contain a relative pronoun. If we are talking about people, we usually use such relative pronoun as “who”. With that said, the end product of your endeavors would be expressed in the following sentence:

  • Do you know the girl who is chatting with Jack?

If you memorize the above piece of information about relative clauses, you will manage to cope with this segment of English grammar without additional efforts. All you have to do is to learn the basics and try to understand the most important rules as for how to form a relative clause. You need to practice more by making up your own sentences using relative pronouns. This will ensure that you cover the material with much ease. The next section of our essay will examine relative pronouns and their function in the sentence.

Relative pronouns of English language can be presented as follows:

  • Who (for people): I once told you about my neighbor who has a dog.

  • Which (for things and animals): Can you see that dog which is barking at the passerby?

  • Which (reference to the sentence in general): He wasn’t able to write which astonished me.

  • Whose (possession for things, people and animals): Do you know the man whose wife is a teacher?

  • Whom (is used for people, particularly in non-defining clauses): I was greeted by my former instructor whom I accidentally met in the street.

  • That (both subject and object pronoun that can be used for things, animals and people, but only in defining relative clauses; in this case, the pronouns “who” and “which” can also be used): I didn’t like the chair that I was sitting on.

As stated above, relative pronouns can be both subject and object pronouns. However, not all students know the difference between these two types of pronouns. This makes it difficult for students to use these pronouns properly. In fact, object and subject pronouns cannot be distinguished from one another using their forms. This is proved by the fact that such pronouns as “which”, “who” and “that” can all be used as subject and object ones. Nevertheless, they can still be distinguished, as will be discussed below.

The first rule goes like this: if a verb goes after a relative pronoun, this is a subject pronoun. This kind of pronoun should be used in all instances. For example:

  • The tomato which is lying on the kitchen table.

The second rule is as follows: if a verb does not go after the relative pronoun, which is instead followed by another pronoun or a noun, this would be an object pronoun. This kind of pronoun is usually omitted in defining relative clauses. Such clauses are also known as contact clauses. For example:

  • The tomato (which) she has eaten in the evening.

It is also important to mention that relative pronouns can be substituted by relative adverbs added with a preposition. If you want your writing to be more understandable, we recommend you to use this rule. In this case, sentences become more clear and easier to comprehend.


  • This is the pumpkin in which we will put a candle for the Halloween.

  • This is the pumpkin where we will put a candle for the Halloween.

In order to understand the rule more clearly, there is a need to research relative adverbs in greater detail. There are three relative adverbs that will be discussed further.

  • When (stands for “in/on which” and indicates the expression of time): I remember the day when I met her.

  • Where (stands for “at/in which” and indicates a place where something has happened or will happen): I don’t know the place where the concert will be held.

  • Why (has a meaning of “for which” and indicates the reason of why something happened): I don’t understand the reason why she refused to go out with me.

All the above relative adverbs and relative pronouns should be memorized by every student who is studying English as a foreign language. They are an important part of English grammar that all students should clearly understand in order to improve their writing and communicative abilities. It is also important to learn more about defining and non-defining relative clauses for the grammar material to be covered completely.

In the essay above, we have briefly investigated the topic of relative clauses and the ways of memorizing them without additional problems. If you liked the essay, you are welcome to use our services for writing and editing help. Check out to get more information.

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