How to use relative clauses

How do we use relative clauses? And why are they split into defining and non-defining?

Let’s start with what a relative clause is.

It’s a secondary sentence linked to a main sentence. We use it to give extra information about the who or what we’re talking about in the main sentence.

What is a defining relative clause?

It’s a relative clause that is absolutely necessary for the main sentence to make sense. Let me give you an example:

“These are the people who bought the house.”

If we remove, ‘who bought the house’, we’re left with, ‘these are the people’. People who? We have 7 billion people in the world!

Because ‘who bought the house’ is necessary for the sentence to make sense, it is a defining relative clause.

Let’s move on to non-defining relative clauses.

These are not so necessary. They’re very interesting, but you can think of them as a kind of gossip. We don’t absolutely need them for the main sentence to make sense. Let’s look at this example:

“The celebrity, who has ten children, came to my house.”

If we take away, ‘who has ten children’, the rest of the sentence still makes sense: ‘The celebrity came to my house’.

‘Who has ten children’ is a nice piece of information, but because it’s not necessary for the sentence to make sense, it’s a non-defining relative clause.

So there you have it! Easy ways to distinguish between defining and non-defining relative clauses so you don’t need to be afraid of them anymore!

If you’d like some practice, try some of our exercises here. For practice on non-defining relative clauses, try these exercises instead. 

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