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A clause that modifies a noun in a sentence, or a noun phrase, is a relative clause
- The woman that has just left the shop didn't buy anything. ('that has just left the shop' modifies the noun 'woman' by telling us which woman the speaker is referring to)
The use of relative pronouns in relatives clauses
There are two types of relative clauses using relative pronouns.
1) Non-Restrictive Clauses (Non-Defining Clauses)
In this type of relative clause, the information is not essential; it could be deleted without making the sentence ungrammatical and it would still be clear who or what we are talking about.
- The President of the United States, who is visiting Moscow, claimed that relations between the two countries were at their best for twenty years. NB - you cannot use that here (after a comma).
- The intermission, which lasts for fifteen minutes, comes halfway through the film.
2) Restrictive Clauses (Defining Clauses)
In this type of relative clause, the information is essential; if it is deleted,then the sentence will no longer make sense as we will not understand who or what is being talked about.
- The man that stole my car was fined. (this is used in American and British English)
- The man who stole my car was fined. (this is used in British English)
- The company which made it has gone bankrupt.
- The company that made it has gone bankrupt.
The use and omission of relative pronouns in relatives clauses
To show possession, we use whose for both people and things:
- The man whose car was stolen wasn't insured.
- The house whose basement was flooded is being repaired.
Omitting the Relative Pronoun in Restrictive Clauses
In the following examples, the man is the subject of both verbs and cannot be omitted:
- The man who told me is coming later.
- The man that told me is coming later.
In the following examples, the woman is the object of the verb 'saw' and, therefore the pronoun can be omitted:
- The woman who I saw is coming later.
- The woman whom I saw is coming later.
- The woman that I saw is coming later.
- The woman I saw is coming later.
NB - WHOM is an object pronoun. It is used in formal English after a preposition and can be used to replace an object,although many no longer do this. In a phrase like 'To whom it may concern', who would not be acceptable.