English Grammar Step by Step
Rewrite the following sentences using relative clauses.
1 Examples: (defining: people)
The girl is very attractive. You were chatting her up
The girl (that/whom) you were chatting up last night is very
The couple are stinking rich. They are sitting beside the
The couple who/that are sitting beside the loudspeaker are
stinking rich. (subject)
The man is my boss. His wife is fanning herself with the
The man whose wife is fanning herself with the newspaper is
my boss. (possessive)
We place the relative clause after its antecedent. As you
can see in the examples above, we have replaced the words her,
they and his with the appropriate relative form. Observe that
her is an object pronoun; they, a subject one; his, a
possessive adjective. In the first case, we need an object
relative pronoun: whom (rather formal)/that; in the second,
a subject relative pronoun: who/that; in the third,
a possessive relative determiner: whose.
a The hooligans are dangerous criminals. They were arrested last
b The boy wets the bed. He lives next door.
c The boy had a crush on her. His overcoat is filthy.
d The woman is a diver. Her hair is wavy.
e The spinster wants to marry eagerly. You met her three days
2 Examples: (defining: things and animals)
She bought a bungalow. It was very expensive.
She bought a bungalow which/that was very expensive. (subject)
The bungalow (which/that) she bought was very expensive.
She lives in a semi-detached house. She inherited it from her
She lives in a semi-detached house (which/that) she inherited
from her parents. (object)
He lives in a detached house. Its garden looks terrific.
He lives in a detached house the garden of which looks terrific.
He lives in a detached house whose garden looks terrific.
Both which (more formal) and that can act as subjects and as
objects, but that is preferred after indefinite pronouns,
superlatives and ordinal numbers:
I didn’t understand everything. He said it at the conference
I didn’t understand everything (that) he said at the
conference hall. (object)
He wants to tell you something. It is very important.
He wants to tell you something that is very important.
As for the possessive relative of which, it is a much better
alternative in formal situations than whose for inanimate
things. Both whose and of which can be used for animals, but
whose is probably commoner:
He saw a dog. Its tail had been cut off.
He saw a dog whose tail had been cut off/He saw a dog the
tail of which had been cut off.
a The spaghetti tasted delicious. We ate it yesterday.
b The salad tasted great. You dressed it with homemade vinegar
and olive oil.
c He wants to catch the rabbit. This rabbit eats the vegetables
in his garden.
d This is the most interesting story. You have never told me such
an interesting story.
e The car belongs to Mr Jones. Its bonnet has a few dents.
3 Examples: (defining with prepositions)
The person is quite adamant about letting people smoke in his
car. I was talking to him last night.
The person (that/whom) I was talking to last night is quite
adamant about letting people smoke in his car.
The person to whom I was talking last night is quite adamant
about letting people smoke in his car.
The bus broke down. I was on the bus.
The bus (which/that) I was on broke down.
The bus on which I was broke down.
We normally put the preposition at the end of the relative
clause, and the relative pronoun may be omitted. In a very
formal context, we can put the preposition before the relative
pronoun. In this case, the relative pronoun can never be
removed, and whom (for people) and which (for things or
animals) must be used. Unfortunately, this sounds awkward at
times or is impossible:
The girl was very fit and healthy. We encouraged her to go on.
The girl (whom/that) we encouraged to go on was very fit and
healthy. (Not The girl on whom we encouraged to go was very fit
and healthy, because on is not a preposition here, but an
The girl, who was very fit and heathy, was encouraged to go on.
(For the use of commas, see the next sections.)
These are the documents. I came across them in the living room
drawer last night.
These are the documents (which/that) I came across in the
living room drawer last night. (Come across is considered as
one word, since the meaning changes if we omit ‘across’.
Consequently, ‘across’ should not be separated from ‘come’.
However, there are cases in which this is possible: I found the
person for whom I was looking. None the less, this sounds too
formal and is avoided in speech.)
a The table was very antique. We were sitting at that table.
b The criminal was taken to gaol. She was robbed by him.
c The woman was the wife of a very important politician. He had
an affair with her.
d The TV programme is off. I told you about it yesterday.
e This is the spade. I was looking for it.
4 Revision exercise.
a The lady is our sales director. She has just turned round.
b These pills are for drug addicts. They want to come off drugs.
c The car is mine. Its bodywork is in a bad state.
d She showed me something. She got it from an antique shop.
e The secretary is a stunner. She ushered me into Mr Goldsmith’s
f The stain won’t come out. You have this stain on your jacket.
g She was swept off her feet by a boy. He saved her life.
h The uncle is very old-fashioned. He came home last night.
i The ship was travelling north. They were on the ship.
j The buttons are too small. You bought them yesterday.
k The pullover is the very latest. He has the pullover on.
l The old dog has just pegged out. Its owner painted a portrait
of your mother the day before yesterday.
m I cut the branch. I stumbled on this branch.
n The children are very naughty. Their mother teaches history at
the local school.
o The old man has a terrible cold. He came into the inn wet to
p The mussels were delicious. You cooked them last week.
q The jersey was naff. Her mother had knitted it for her.
r They are going to pull down the house. Its roof is black.
s I saw an indigent. His hand was badly burnt.
t Everyone says it is excellent. They are at the première.
u The last person was a fifty-year-old woman. He saw her.
v The old lady has been across the world. She has a lot of pets.
w The inn had central heating. We stayed at that inn.
x She’s the most charming girl. I don’t know any other girls as
charming as she is.
y This is the horse. Mary rides it.
z The boy is very polite. She’s going out with him tonight.
5 Examples: (defining and non-defining relative clauses)
The student reads broadsheet newspapers. She’s sitting next
The student who/that is sitting next to Alexis reads broadsheet
Edith reads broadsheets newspapers. She is sitting next
Edith, who is sitting next to Alexis, reads broadsheet
The stranger comes from France. You met him yesterday.
The stranger (that/whom) you met yesterday comes from France.
The stranger in black comes from France. You met him yesterday.
The stranger in black, whom you met yesterday, comes from
The lady firmly believes in progress. Her husband works
The lady whose husband works with you firmly believes in
The lady over there firmly believes in progress. Her husband
works with you.
The lady over there, whose husband works with you,
firmly believes in progress. (non-defining)
The cat scratched him. You often feed it.
The cat (that/which) you often feed scratched him. (defining)
Sandra’s cat scratched him. You often feed it.
Sandra’s cat, which you often feed, scratched him.
The cemetery looks gloomy. It dates from the seventeenth
The cemetery which/that dates from the seventeenth century
looks gloomy. (defining)
This cemetery looks gloomy. It dates back to the seventeenth
This cemetery, which dates back to the seventeenth century,
looks gloomy. (non-definig)
The dog was run over by a lorry last night. Its coat and
(its) eyes were beautiful.
The dog whose coat and (whose) eyes were beautiful was run over
by a lorry last night. (defining)
Her dog was run over by a lorry last night. Its coat and
(its) eyes were beautiful.
Her dog, whose coat and (whose) eyes were beautiful, was run
over by a lorry last night. (non-defining)
The graveyard is in a poor condition. Its walls were put up by
The graveyard the walls of which were put up by my
great-granfather is in poor condition. (defining)
This graveyard is in poor condition. Its walls were put up by
This graveyard, the walls of which/whose walls were put up
by my great-granfather, is in a poor condition. (non-defining)
When the antecedent does not give us enough information, we
do not put commas. Commas are only used when the information
provided by the relative clause is not needed. As a result,
we may remove the relative clause. For instance, the
antecedent ‘the student’ is very ambiguous. Hence the relative
clause is required to determine it: The student who is sitting
next to Alexis... In this case, we know which student we are
referring to: Not all the students in the class, but the one
sitting next to Alexis. But if we say ‘Edith’ (instead of
‘the student’), there is no necessity to use ‘who is sitting
next to Alexis’, as we already know which student we are
talking about, that is, ‘Edith’ provide us with enough
That is not posssible with non-defining relative clauses, ie
the ones with commas. The relatives pronouns whom or which
cannot be left out.
Non-defining relative clauses are formal and not very usual in
speech. For this reason, when there is a preposition, it
usually goes before the relative pronoun:
His job is very important to him. He has devoted all his life
His job, to which he has devoted all his life, is very
important to him. (Or less formally, His job, which he has
devoted all his life to, is very important to him.)
Mrs Brown is a very good lawyer. I have an appointment with her
Mrs Brown, with whom I have an appointment this afternoon, is a
very good lawyer. (Or less formally, Mrs Brown, whom I have an
appointment with this afternoon, is a very good lawyer.)
Observe the following:
Paris is a marvellous place. I spent two years of my life in
Paris, in which city I spent two years of my life, is a
marvellous place. (For more details, see section 13 in this
Paris, where I spent two years of my life, is a marvellous
place. (For further information about the relative pronoun
where, see section 13.)
We reached a deal. Under this, we shall increase our annual
We reached a deal under which we shall increase our annual
profits. (In this case, the prepositon may not be moved to the
end of the relative clause.)
The deal (that/which) we reached will increase our annual
a Don Quixote is a send-up of chivalry novels. It was written by
b The police suspected us of being spies. They were harassing us
c The examination was as easy as ABC. We did it yesterday.
d The main character in this novel is a tax-collector. He is very
e The policewoman had four children. She was murdered by a gang
6 Examples: (co-ordinating relative clauses)
She arrived home very late. This annoyed her parents.
She arrived home very late, which annoyed her parents.
He gave the secretary a memo. She handed it over to the boss.
He gave the secretary a memo, who handed it over to the boss.
Co-ordinating relative clauses are a subclass of non-defining
relative clauses. They do not describe their antecedents, but
give extra information about it. Compare the following:
Adam, who is in hospital, wants to see you immediately.
He gave the secretary a memo, who handed it over to the boss.
The two sentences give us additional information about their
antecedents, but there is a difference between them: the first
one tells us something about its antencedent, but the second
one does not: it simply relates an action or a fact of the
antecedent. They can also refer to the whole sentence: She
arrived home very late, which annoyed her parents. Last but not
least, that is impossible here, and commas must be used.
a She told him that she loved him. This made him feel nervous.
b Everything went according to plan. This pleased them a lot.
c I told the whole matter to the police, but they said it wasn’t
d I offered them my help. They rejected it.
e The new album outsells all their other works. This will make
them one of the most popular bands in the world.
7 Complete the following tables:
Definig relative clauses: people
Defining relative clauses: things and animals
Non-defining and co-ordinating relative clauses: people
Non-defining and co-ordinating relative clauses: things and
8 Revision exercise.
a The runner is my workmate. He is in the lead now.
b The lawyer has one foot in the grave. He worked for my father
twenty years ago.
c We are going through a crisis. In this crisis, many employers
will have to close down.
d They married her daughter to a man. He was twice her age and
e The man was an old crock. They married her daughter to him.
f He told her that she got what she deserved. This annoyed her
g The woman is an ardent feminist. Her husband is a member of
the golf club.
h Sir Thomas’s cavalry saved their lives. He did not die in vain.
But for him, our siblings would not be alive now. This is why
we will never forget him.
i They set fire to the barracks. This angered the captain.
j My grandmother is very old. She suffers from senile dementia.
k Her sister always gets out of bed on the wrong side. He’s very
fond of her.
l The children were very afraid of lightning. They’re neighbours
m Someone nicked the silver cutlery set. They knew the house
n That old man thinks women should stay at home and take care of
their children. He has outworn ideas.
o We put our trust in them. This was the silliest thing to do.
p Margaret was madly in love with him. She did not want to tell
q Susie is a friend of my daughter’s. She’s swinging on the old
r The people next door very often go to posh restaurants. They
come from well-to-do families.
s Her father gave her a lecture about the importance of getting
home early. He didn’t want her daughter to arrive home late.
t The little girls are my nieces. They’re riding on the swings.
u The man is forty years of age. He runs this company.
v Mrs Brown has a crick in the neck. She hasn’t come to work
w The print cartridge is faulty. We bought it yesterday afternoon.
x Big cities’ smog should be reduced. It’s very bad for people’s
y Miss Perkins is very pessimistic about her future. You teach
z New York is very cosmopolitan. She would like to live in
There were a lot of passers-by in the street. Most of them were
in a hurry.
There were a lot of passers-by in the street, most of whom were
in a hurry.
Eight guests could not come to the reception. Two of them were
in bed with influenza.
Eight guests, two of whom were in bed with influenza, could not
come to the reception.
There were five clocks in the house. One of them was broken.
There were five clocks in the house, one of which was broken.
As seen above, when we have the following combination:
a pronoun (most, one, etc.) + of + them/it, we place
a comma before the pronoun, and instead of them or it,
we write whom (for people) or which (for things or animals).
a I saw several paintings and sculptures by Michelangelo
Buanarroti. All of them were superb.
b There were nearly fifty people at the party. The majority
of them were wearing informal clothes.
c He collects cuckoo clocks. Some of them cost him a fortune.
d He borrowed a lot of books from the library. A few of them
were on medieval history.
e This library loans art books. Most of them are about
the Middle Ages.
She congratulated me on having passed all the tests. She was
the first person to do this.
She was the first person to congratulate me on having passed
all the tests.
She was the first person that congratulated me on having
passed all the tests.
I need a room of my own. I need to study there/in this room.
I need a room of my own in which to study.
I need a room of my own to study in.
After ordinal numbers or expressions such as ‘the only’, we
can use that or an infinitive. The infinitive construction
is also common when we have a preposition in the relative
clause. Note the following:
There are a lot of letters. He must write them.
There are a lot of letters for him to write.
a Aldrin, Collins and Amstrong landed on the moon. They were
the first people.
b Mary rang me up. She was the only person to do this.
c There are a lot of things. We can eat them at home.
d He has nobody. Nobody wants to go out with him.
e He has a lot of homework. He must do it for tomorrow.
Note the following construction: He who wants to eat sits down
to the table.
The object relative pronoun may be dropped. Who, instead of
whom or that, sometimes occurs in conversation.
Who is a much better alternative than that, but that is far
more common than who after indefinite pronouns, superlatives
and ordinal numbers:
Everybody loves pasta. They should go to an
Everybody that loves pasta should go to an
Italian restaurant. (subject)
The first people brought me a present. They arrived
at the party.
The first people that arrive at the party brought me
a present. (subject)
The first people to arrive at the party brought me
a present. (See section 10 in this unit.)
They are the best workers. He has never had
such good workers.
They are the best workers (that) he has ever had.
(object→Whom is unusual here.)
Other alternatives to this:
The semi-detached house (that) she lives in was
inherited from her parents.
The semi-detached house where/in which she lives
was inherited from her parents.
See the previous section (footnote 3) and section 10.
In this particular case, we could have said He wants to tell
you something important.
Of which can sometimes be avoided, as in the following
The detached house (that) he lives in has a garden that
The detached house where/in which he lives has a garden
that looks terrific.
The detached house (that) he lives in has a
The detached house where/in which he lives has a
Here, we could have said The dog (that/which) he saw had its
tail cut off.
This alternative is much better than the one with whose
(at least in formal contexts): The graveyard whose walls were
put up by my great-grandfather is in poor condition. See
section 2 in this unit.
See the previous footnote.
See also section 3 in this unit.
Which is a relative determiner here. The preposition cannot
be put at the end.
Also called connective relative clauses.
Note also that the relative clause is placed after ‘a memo’,
not after ‘the secretary’, which is its antecedent. We could
have also said He gave a memo to the secretary, who handed
it over to the boss.
Note that ‘majority’ is a noun, not a pronoun.
See sections 1 (footnote, 3) and 2 in this unit.
Note the following:
Which bus do I have to take?
I don’t know which bus to take/I don’t know which bus I have
to take. (interrogative determiner)
Who(m) are they going to invite to their wedding?
They still don’t know who(m) to invite to their wedding/They
still don’t know who(m) they are going to invite to their
wedding. (interrogative pronoun)
There are a lot of letters (that) he must write is possible,
but much less usual.
Author: Miquel Molina i Diez
Pages: 1, 2 and the key
1 Negative and interrogative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
2 Short answers (Page 2 and the key)
3 Question tags (Page 2 and the key)
4 Questions and exclamations (Page 2 and the key)
5 So, neither, nor, either (the key)
6 Be, used to, would, be/get/become used to, dare, have, get, become, grow, go, turn, fall and feel (Page 2 and the key)
7 Verb tenses: forms (Page 2 and the key)
8 Irregular verbs
9 Verb tenses: uses (Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5 and the key)
10 Personal pronouns, possessives and reflexive pronouns (Page 2 and the key)
11 The genitive case (the key)
12 Singular and plural nouns (Page 2 and the key)
13 Gender (the key)
14 A, an, some, any, no, not, none, each, every and the; compounds of some, any, no and every (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
15 Neither, not...either, none, not...any, both and all (the key)
16 A few, few, a lot, lots, a little, little, many, much, no and plenty (the key)
17 Enough, too, so and such (the key)
18 Comparative and superlative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
19 Adjective order (the key)
20 Relative clauses (Page 2 and the key)
21 Do and make (the key)
22 Modal verbs (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
23 Infinitives, gerunds and present participles (Page 2 and the key)
24 Conditional sentences (Page 2 and the key)
25 Passive sentences (the key)
26 Reported speech (Page 2 and the key)
27 Purpose (the key)
28 Word order (the key)
29 Inversion (the key)
30 Connectors (Page 2 and the key)
31 Prepositions (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
32 Phrasal verbs (the key)