Sentence Writing – Step 3 (Relative Clauses)


Our next trick to embellishing our simple sentences is to add some dependent relative clauses. A relative clause has a subject, verb, and a relative pronoun. The following are examples of relative pronouns:

  • who, whom, whose
  • when, where, why (these could be thought of as relative adverbs)
  • what
  • which, that
  • whoever, whomever, whichever

Some general principles to be aware of when using relative clauses:

  1. Relative clauses are typically introduced by relative pronouns.
  2. The relative pronoun can function as a possessive pronoun, an object, or a subject.
  3. When relative pronouns introduce restrictive relative clauses, no comma is used to separate the restrictive clause from the main clause. In this sense, restrictive means essential to the meaning of the sentence. Conversely, nonrestrictive means the clause is nonessential.
  4. In American English, the relative pronoun whom is used rarely. You may notice this in conversations, but it is best to use the term when writing to ensure that your work is grammatically correct.
  5. The relative pronoun is typically omitted in certain cases. These will be covered later in this lesson.

Embellishing Sentences with Who/Whom Clauses

Note: Who” is nominative case and can only serve as the subject of its clause.
“Whom” is objective case and can only serve as an object (DO or OP).

  1. The thief, who was wearing a ski mask over his head, ran down the street.
  2. The runners who were approaching the finish line were clearly ready to drop from exhaustion. (from = due to)
  3. Jack and Jill swaggered into the restaurant as if they owned the place. In point of fact, Jill, who was Jack’s wife, did own the place.
  4. I was not the one who did it. It was he who did it!
  5. She is the one of whom we speak.
  6. He is the one to whom I owe a great debt.
  7. She is the one whom I love.

Embellishing Sentences with Whose Clauses

Note: “Whose” is possessive, an adjective, and thus must be accompanied by a noun.

  1. I don’t know whose house that is but they must have a lot of money.
  2. Can anyone tell me whose cell phone this is?
  3. Whose woods these are I do not know. His house is in the village though.
  4. You are the one whose name she called just before she died. (just = immediately)

Embellishing Sentences with Where Clauses

Note: “Where” is an adverb that can refer to a location or a set of circumstances.

  1. I don’t know where she went, but she’s clearly not here now.
  2. This is a case where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
  3. That old shack is where I lived when I was a child.

Embellishing Sentences with When Clauses

Note: “When” is an adverb that refers to a time or set of circumstances.

  1. Can you tell me when it happened?
  2. I left when she was just arriving.
  3. There was a time when I would have flown to the moon for her, but not now.
  4. A riot is when a lot of people start becoming unruly and acting violently.

Embellishing Sentences with What Clauses

Note: “What” usually refers to things.

  1. I’ll have what he’s eating at that table over there.
  2. I don’t have any idea what that is but I want one!
  3. Do you know what he’s babbling on about?

Embellishing Sentences with Which Clauses

Note: “Which” is usually used with nonrestrictive clauses and usually refers to things. “Which” can also be used with quantifiers (numbers).

  1. This is New York City, which is often referred to as the city that never sleeps.
  2. He is intellectually challenged, which is another way to say he is dense and stupid.
  3. That is the one of which I speak.
  4. There are five balls, four of which are green and one of which is red.
  5. This is my family, which I am very proud of.
  6. The Challenger, which exploded during its launch phase, taught us to avoid a phenomenon called “groupthink”.

Embellishing Sentences with That Clauses

Note: “That” is usually used with restrictive clauses and may refer to people or things.

  1. This is the very same New York City that is known as the city that never sleeps.
  2. She is the one that my heart beats for.
  3. Moscow is one place that I would like to visit someday.
  4. I want to say that that was one cool play.

Embellishing Sentences with -ever Clauses

Note: “Whoever”, “whichever”, and “whatever” refer to generic circumstances.

  1. She will love whoever will pay her bills and buy her expensive clothes and jewelry.
  2. He will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
  3. I’ll take whichever ones you don’t want.

When Can a Relative Pronoun Be Omitted?

Restrictive clause + relative pronoun as subject + “to be” + present/past participle:

  1. The man (who is) standing at the bus stop looks tired.
  2. The woman (who was) sent to jail committed theft.

Restrictive clause + who/which/that as subject (may need to convert verb to participle):

  1. The woman (who lives) next door is old. => The woman living next door is old.
  2. Do you see that cat (which is) lying on the roof? => Do you see that cat lying on the roof?

Restrictive clause + relative pronoun as direct object:

  1. She loves the gift (that) I bought. (I bought that.)
  2. He is the one (that) she loves. (She loves that.)

Self Assessment

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