Defining Relative Clause

Definition: A defining relative clause (also called identifying relative clauses or restrictive relative clauses) gives essential information about the noun or noun phrase it modifies, the purpose of a defining relative clause is to clearly define who or what we are talking about. Without this information, it would be difficult to know who or what is meant.

For example:

  • The hotel that we stayed in wasn't bad. ("that we stayed in" tells the listener which hotel we are talking about; it defines the hotel)

Punctuation Commas are not used in defining relative clauses.

Relative pronouns The following relative pronouns are used in defining relative clauses:

  Person Thing Place Time Reason
Subject who/that which/that
Object who/whom/that/ø which/that/ø where when why
Possessive whose




"Who", "whom" and "which" can be replaced by "that". This is very common in spoken English.

The "relative pronoun" can be omitted () when it is the object of the clause.

For example:

  • The mouse that the elephant loved was very beautiful.
  • The mouse /ø the elephant loved was very beautiful.

"Whose" is used for things as well as for people.

For example:

  • The man whose car was stolen.
  • A tree whose leaves have fallen.

"Whom" is very formal and is only used in written English. You can use "who/that, or omit" the pronoun completely.

For example:

  • The doctor whom/who/that/ I was hoping to see wasn't on duty.

"That" normally follows words like "something, anything, everything, nothing, all, and superlatives".

For example:

  • There's something that you should know.
  • It was the best film that I've ever seen.


  • The woman who lives in apartment No. 34 has been arrested.
  • An elephant is an animal that lives in hot countries.
  • Do you know the girl who is talking to Tom?
  • The house / is being renovated.
  • Has anyone seen the book I was reading?
  • The document that I need has "important" written at the top.
  • Let's go to a country where the sun always shines.
  • A seaman is someone who works on a ship.
  • The boy /who/whom/ we met yesterday is very nice.

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