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.|
||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.|
||That’s the part of the earth that faces the sun.|
||He’s probably the cleverest man I’ve ever met.|
||The best cheese was probably the brie at the farmhouse where we were staying.|
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