Clauses: Relative clauses

Look at the highlighted clauses in these examples. What do they add to the meaning of the sentences?

  • And then he ran down this alleyway so we ran as well, with the guys who were then chasing him. [S2A-050 #163]
  • And the school where I teach is at the general hospital in Northampton. [S1A-082 #9]
  • The 8-Series model and the engine which powered it were superbly detailed. [W2B-037 #28]

Each clause comes after a noun and gives us more information relating to that noun.

These clauses are called relative clauses because they ‘relate back’ to a preceding noun (called the antecedent).

A relative clause is a special type of subordinate clause (a clause which only functions as part of a larger structure).

Let’s zoom in on our examples:

  • the guys who were then chasing him
  • the school where I teach
  • the engine which powered it

These relative clauses tell us which guys are being talked about, which school, which engine. Notice that each one has a special relative word starting with wh-: who, where, which.

What about the relative clauses in these examples?

  • I was in Narrow Wood, which is just near Box Hill, Dorking. [S1A-081 #60]
  • Last season, he was on loan to Swansea, for whom he played in the European Cup. [W2C-014 #28]

These relative clauses don’t tell us ‘which Narrow Wood?’ or ‘which Swansea?’ – those questions don’t really make sense. However, they do give more information which relates to Narrow Wood and Swansea: Narrow Wood is just near Box Hill, Dorking; he played for Swansea in the European Cup.

Some relative clauses start instead with that:

  • Those batteries that you gave me lasted an hour. [S1A-085 #132]
  • But you will also need to do exercise that strengthens bones. [W2B-022 #103]

Often that can be left out:

  • Those batteries that you gave me lasted an hour.
  • Those batteries you gave me lasted an hour.

Here are some more examples where there is no special relative word (no that or wh-word):

  • That’s not the guy you were talking to. [S1A-058 #11]
  • But was it in that little book you had yesterday? [S1A-053 #185]
  • Why is it that everybody I interview starts discussing the equipment? [S1A-007 #191]

Relative clauses most often relate back to nouns. However, sometimes they relate back to a whole clause. What is  described as being a bit sad in this example?

  • So we haven’t really got very far, which is a bit sad. [S1A-008 #9]

What’s described as a bit sad here is the whole situation in which we haven’t got very far.

See if you can find the relative clauses inside these sentences:

  • Mike Heafy was a man who worked for Allied Dunbar.[S1A-003 #51]
  Mike Heafy was a man who worked for Allied Dunbar.
  • And then I had the vegetarian option, which was a wonderful spinach cheese thing with good veggies. [S1A-011 #261]
  And then I had the vegetarian option, which was a wonderful spinach cheese thing with good veggies.
  • The ninety per cent figure he keeps talking about is totally irrelevant. [S1B-058 #78]
  The ninety per cent figure he keeps talking about is totally irrelevant.
  • That’s the part of the earth that faces the sun. [S2A-043 #61]
  That’s the part of the earth that faces the sun.
  • He’s probably the cleverest man I’ve ever met. [S2A-023 #51]
  He’s probably the cleverest man I’ve ever met.
  • The best cheese was probably the brie at the farmhouse where we were staying. [S1A-009 #330]
  The best cheese was probably the brie at the farmhouse where we were staying.

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