The use of relative clauses
Look at this conversation:
Jill:I saw Natalie Parker the other day.
Tessa :Natalie? The woman who lived in the upstairs flat?
Jill:No, that was Naomi. Natalie is the student who failed all her exams, the one who never didany studying. She’s working in Davidson’s now, the shop that sells leather goods.
Tessa:Oh, Natalie. Yes, of course.
These relative clauses identify which person or thing we are talking about. The clause who lived in the upstairs flat tells us which girl Tessa means. The clause that sells leather goods tells us which shop Jill means.
Sometimes we can use an adjective or a phrase to identify someone or something, for example: the tall girl, the new student, the woman with blond hair, the shop on the corner. But when we need a longer explanation we can use a relative clause, for example: the woman who lived in the upstairs flat.
who, which and that
Who and which go after the noun and at the beginning of the relative clause.
Who refers to people and which to things. Look at these examples:
Mrs Bryant is the woman who owns that enormous house.
I don’t like people who tell jokes all the time.
We saw the actual spacecraft which landed on the moon.
There are several restaurants which do Sunday lunches.
I threw away that old tin-opener which didn’t work.
The little girl who sat next to me on the coach ate sweets the whole way.
Burglar alarms which ring for no reason are a real nuisance.
We do not use another pronoun with the relative pronoun:
not …. the man who he owns that enormous dog.
not ….the actual spacecraft which it landed on the moon.
We can use that instead of who or which:
Mrs Bryant is the woman who/that owns that enormous house.
We saw the actual spacecraft which/that landed on the moon.
With people, who is more usual. With things, that is more usual, especially in conversation. Which can be a little formal.
The woman who lived here before us is a romantic novelist.
Have you got the phone number of the chap who repaired your washing-machine?
The car that won the race didn’t look anything very special.
They’ve recaptured all the animals that escaped from the zoo.
who, which and that as subject and object
A relative pronoun (who, which, that) can be the subject of the clause:
The man who has bought the house comes from London,
(he has bought the house)
The photo which took first prize was o fa farmhouse.
(the photo took first prize)
The letter that came this morning was from my sister.
(the letter came this morning)
A relative pronoun can also be the object of the clause:
The man who you met yesterday is my friend Bernard.
(you met the man)
Are these the cakes which Helen baked?
(Helen baked the cakes)
The TV programme that we missed is repeated this evening.
(we missed the TV programme)
We do not use another pronoun (e.g. him) with the relative pronoun:
NOT … the man who you met him.
NOT …the cakes which Helen baked them.
Leaving out the relative pronoun
We can leave out the pronoun who, which or that when it is the object. We often do this in spoken English.
The man you met yesterday is my friend Bernard. (or The man who you met…)
The TV programme we missed is repeated this evening. (or The TV programme that we missed …)
We don’t know the name of the person the police are questioning.
The mistake Sarah made was fortunately not very serious.
That jacket Tony always wears is falling to pieces.
We can also leave out who, which or that when they are the object of a preposition (e.g. to):
The man I spoke to yesterday is my friend Bernard.
We do not leave out a relative pronoun when it is the subject:
The man who has bought the house comes from London.
who and whom
In formal English, whom is sometimes used when the object is a person:
The person whom/who the police were questioning has now been released.
But in conversation whom is not very common. We normally leave out the pronoun, or we use who:
I know the woman (who) you were talking to.
Prepositions in relative clauses
Preposition at the end
A relative pronoun can be the object of a preposition:
The restaurant which we normally go to is closed for decoration.
(we normally go to the restaurant)
I found the letter that I was looking for.
(I was looking for the letter)
These are the people that we went on holiday with last year.
(we went on holiday with these people)
In informal spoken English we normally put the preposition at the end of the relative clause. Compare the word order:
STATEMENT RELATIVE CLAUSE
We go to the restaurant. the restaurant which we go to
I was looking for the letter. the letter that I was looking for
We often leave out the relative pronoun (e.g. which):
The restaurant we normally go to is closed for decoration.(OR. The restaurant which we normally go to …)
I found the letter I was looking for. (OR … the letter that 1 was looking for.)
These are the people we went on holiday with.
The concert you were telling me about is next week.
I can’t remember the name of the hotel we stayed at.
Is this the colour you’ve finally decided on?
We do not use a pronoun (e.g. it, them) after the preposition:
not The restaurant we normally go to it is closed.
not These are the people we went on holiday with them.
Preposition at the beginning
In formal English the preposition can come at the beginning of the relative clause, before which or whom:
Was that the restaurant to which you normally go?
Electronics is a subject about which I know very little.
What is the evidence on which you base this claim?
Mr Bell is the person from whom I obtained the information.
We cannot put a preposition before that or who:
Electronics is a subject that I know little about.
not … a subject about that I know little.
Mr Bell is the person who l obtained the information from.
not … the person from who l obtained the information.
We use whose in relative clauses (in the place of his, her, their, etc.) to show possession.
Look at the examples of relative clauses with whose:
Jeremy is the boy whose passport was out of date.
The girl whose photo was in the paper lives in our street.
Here whose passport means his passport, Jeremy’s passport, and whose photo means her photo, a photo of her.
Here are some more examples:
Someone whose bicycle had been stolen was repairing it to the police.
There were two players whose skill impressed everyone.
We use whose mainly with people. But sometimes it goes with other kinds of nouns:
Which is the European country whose economy is growing the fastest?
Round the corner was a building whose windows were all broken.
Mary was looking after a dog whose leg had been broken in an accident.
We can use of which in the place of whose.
That is the chair the leg of which is broken. (whose leg)
We use where in relative clause to modify a place.
This is the town where I was born.
Adana is a city where a lot of cotton is grown.
We can use a preposition with which in the place of where.
The hotel where we stayed was comfortable.
The hotel which we stayed in was comfortable.
Study these sentences.
The villages are pretty. They are on the Mediterranean coast.
The villages which/that are on the Mediterranean coast are pretty.
The villages were pretty. We visited them last summer.
The villages which/that/- we visited last summer were pretty.
The village was pretty. There were lots of trees in that village.
The village where there were lots of trees was pretty.
We use when in relative clause to modify a noun of time.
I’ll never forget the day when I met you.
Can you remember the day when you first learnt the result of LGS exam?
We can use a preposition with which in the place of when.
1945 was the year when the war ended.
1945 was the year in which the war ended.
We use why in relative clause to modify the reason.
I don’t know the reason why she comes late.
The cause why they divorced was a secret.
We can use because of/for which in the place of why.
This is the reason why I’m so happy.
This the reason for which I’m so happy.
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