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Unit 92 Defining relative clauses

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Main points

* You use defining relative clauses to say exactly which person or thing you are talking about.

* Defining relative clauses are usually introduced by a relative pronoun such as `that’, `which’, `who’, `whom’, or `whose’.

* A defining relative clause comes immediately after noun, and needs a main clause to make a complete sentence.

1 You use defining relative clauses to give information that helps to identify the person or thing you are talking about.
The man who you met yesterday was my brother.
The car which crashed into me belonged to Paul.

When you are talking about people, you use `that’ or `who’ in the relative clause.
He was the man that bought my house.
You are the only person here who knows me.

When you are talking about things, you use `that’ or `which’ in the relative clause.
There was ice cream that Mum had made herself.
I will tell you the first thing which I can remember.

2 `That’, `who’, or `which’ can be:

* the subject of the verb in the relative clause
The thing that really surprised me was his attitude.
The woman who lives next door is very friendly.
The car which caused the accident drove off.

* the object of the verb in the relative clause
The thing that I really liked about it was its size.
The woman who you met yesterday lives next door.
The car which I wanted to buy was not for sale.

In formal English, `whom’ is used instead of `who’ as the object of the verb in the relative clause.
She was a woman whom I greatly respected.

3 You can leave out `that’, `who’, or `which’ when they are the object of the verb in the relative clause.
The woman you met yesterday lives next door.
The car I wanted to buy was not for sale.
The thing I really liked about it was its size.

WARNING: You cannot leave out `that’, `who’, or `which’ when they are the subject of the verb in the relative clause. For example, you say `The woman who lives next door is very friendly’. You do not say `The woman lives next door is very friendly’.

4 A relative pronoun in a relative clause can be the object of a preposition. Usually the preposition goes at the end of the clause.
I wanted to do the job which I’d been training for.
The house that we lived in was huge.

You can often omit a relative pronoun that is the object of a preposition.
Angela was the only person I could talk to.
She’s the girl I sang the song for.

The preposition always goes in front of `whom’, and in front of `which’ in formal English.
These are the people to whom Catherine was referring.
He was asking questions to which there were no answers.

5 You use `whose’ in relative clauses to indicate who something belongs to or relates to. You normally use `whose’ for people, not for things.
A child whose mother had left him was crying loudly.
We have only told the people whose work is relevant to this project.

6 You can use `when’, `where’, and `why’ in defining relative clauses after certain nouns. You use `when’ after `time’ or time words such as `day’ or `year’. You use `where’ after `place’ or place words such as `room’ or `street’. You use `why’ after `reason’.
There had been a time when she hated all men.
This is the year when profits should increase.
He showed me the place where they work.
That was the room where I did my homework.
There are several reasons why we can’t do that.

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