Writers Workshop: Writer Resources
Grammar Handbook: Relative Clauses
A relative clause acts as a clause that modifies a noun or pronoun. Relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun (who, whom, which, that, whose). Relative clauses can either be restrictive or nonrestrictive. Also see below for common usage problems.
Restrictive Relative Clauses
A restrictive relative clause is essential in order to complete the meaning of the main clause.
- Where is the girl who is going?
- That's the one that I like best.
- Is he the one whose house is on fire?
Nonrestrictive Relative Clauses
A nonrestrictive relative clause adds definition to the main clause, but is not necessary for meaning. Nonrestrictive relative clauses are set off by commas.
- That girl, who is going to the concert, has a green dress.
- The orange car, which is my favorite, has seating for six.
- The tuba player, whose house is on fire, just went to band practice.
Common Usage Problems
Beware of sentence fragments when trying to use a relative clause:
- He was a loser. Who never thought he would win. [incorrect]
- He was a loser who never thought he would win. [revised]
The relative pronoun should immediately follow the antecedent in a relative clause. Violating this rule leads to confusion:
- She saw the guy who dated Sheila who has a red mohawk. [unclear]
- Does Sheila or the guy have a red mohawk? [confusing]
- She saw the guy, who has a red mohawk, who dated Sheila.