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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.


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.


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: