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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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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.

Examples:

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.

Examples:

Common Usage Problems

Beware of sentence fragments when trying to use a relative clause:

The relative pronoun should immediately follow the antecedent in a relative clause. Violating this rule leads to confusion:

Revised: