Relative Clauses


How much do you know about relative clauses? Can you answer these questions?

  • What's the difference between a defining and non-defining relative clause? 
  • When can that be used as an alternative relative pronoun to who or which? 
  • When can the relative pronoun be ellipted (omitted) from the sentence?
  • What's been ellipted in the following sentence and what is this type of relative clause called? The birds nesting in that tree are crows, I think.
  • What's the referent for which in the following sentence, and what's the name of this type of clause? He didn't win, which surprised me.
  • Could you specify at least three problems that learners have with relative clauses?
If you're not sure of the answers to any of these questions, see the following.

The Cambridge Online Grammar 

Relative clausesRelative clauses referring to a whole sentenceRelative clauses: defining and non-definingRelative clauses: typical errors

ELT Concourse : Relative Clauses

The ELT Glossary :  Sentential relative clauses

Practice Activities

When you've found the answers to the initial questions, test your understanding with this activity.  You'll find the suggested answers on this page. Check back to the references above for anything you're still not sure about.

1. Comment on the form and use of the following relative clauses, a-h. They come from an article on the BBC website:  Irrelevant words have been omitted and indicated by ....

2. Identify at least one problem that each of the relative clauses in the examples might cause for learners

a) The legislation aims to regulate the hours under-16s can work online 

b) The new law, which was passed unanimously on Tuesday, does not affect all children....

c)The new law... does not affect all children who appear on social media, ....

d) The new law... does not affect all children... but instead targets those who spend significant amounts of time working online ... 

e) The new law... does not affect all children... but instead targets those ... whose work generates an income. 

f) Children's rights must be preserved and protected, including on the internet, which must not be a lawless area. 

g) According to Forbes, last year's top YouTube earner was Ryan Kaji, ...., whose toy review channel made $26m (£20m).

h) Third on the list was Russian-born Anastasia Radzinskaya, .... who earned $18m (£13.7m).

If you've looked at the suggested answers and feel you need to check your understanding of relative clauses further, try this quiz:  Grammar Task C -  Relative Clauses  There are ten questions, some in multiple-choice format and others which ask you to analyse the form and use of the relative pronoun and/or clause in a given sentence (similar to the questions above). You'll see the correct answers after you submit the activity. (Please excuse a number of typos like missing capital letters - unfortunately I can no longer change them.) This is what you might be asked to do in Paper 1/5 of the Delta Module One exam, and the feedback given on the answers will be particularly useful if you are taking the exam. However, the quiz itself is valid for everyone.