Activity 1: Defining or non-defining? Omitting the relative pronoun?

Exercise 1.

The sentences containing non-defining relative clauses are numbers: 1, 2, 4, 8 and 12.

The non-defining relative clause is separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. The clauses could be removed from the sentences and they would still make sense. The clause adds extra, non-essential information and the effect is the same as if the clause was separated from the rest of the sentence by brackets. For example, the first sentence could be rewritten as:

The meeting (which was attended by all the shareholders) came to a unanimous decision.

The sentences containing defining relative clauses are numbers: 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11. In these sentences the extra information is essential information, as it answers the question: “Which one(s)?” The clause is not separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

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Exercise 2.

It is possible to omit the relative pronoun in sentences numbered: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11. In all these sentences the relative pronoun is the object and, as these are defining relative clauses, can be left out.

1.) Another system is the complaints procedure members of the public can initiate against police officers.
2.) The oil crisis alone could not have destroyed the confidence capitalists felt during the golden years.
4.) The explanation you gave for your absence at the board meeting was unacceptable.
5.) The policy the government pursued at that time was an example of ‘laissez faire’ economics.
7.) The arguments Cullens (2010:19) puts forward to criticise any approach dependent on greater investment are convincing.
9.) Galileo discovered four satellites we now call the Galilean satellites.
11.) The task therefore observes the principal of human sense Donaldson (1978) has so clearly brought to our attention.

In the other sentences numbered: 3, 6, 8, 10 and 12, the relative pronoun is the subject of the defining relative clause, so cannot be omitted. Sentence number 6 may have caused you difficulty. The verb is in the passive voice (“The report that was eventually submitted by the researchers”) but the “report that” is still the subject of this passive verb.

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Activity 2: Choosing the correct relative pronoun/adverb

1.) For students whose background is more creative the treatment of the core subject areas would be more descriptive.

The possessive relative pronoun is needed here (the background of the students).

2.) Neither political system could rely with confidence on those to whom it entrusted the task of educating the peasants.

We need “whom” here because it follows the preposition “to”.

3.) The court must be satisfied that all persons whose consent is required understand the legal effect of the adoption.

The possessive relative pronoun is needed here (the consent of the persons).

4.) Finally, one of the students with whom I had worked a couple of summers previously came back to me, just before I left, to discuss his third year project.

We need “whom” here because it follows the preposition “with”.

5.) However, in the fifteen to twenty-four age group, many of whom had probably benefited from education since 1975, the figures were 7.7 and 24.7 per cent respectively.

We use “whom” after “many of” in a non-defining relative clause.

6.) In Bavaria, most of which was overwhelmingly Catholic, by far the greatest unrest was provoked by the crude attempt to remove crucifixes from school classrooms.

We use “which” after “most of” in non-defining relative clauses.

7.) It is an area of Belfast where routine policing is possible as a result of the virtual absence of political violence.

We need “where” after a place in this defining relative clause.

8.) This is described as the factor which “means everything” to the decision about whether or not to proceed.

We need “which” as it is the subject of the verb in this defining relative clause (“that” would also have been possible here).

9.) The third reason why Dzerzhinsky was sent off to distant Siberia was purely political, and had little to do with the railways.

We need to use “why” here because it explains ‘why‘ and follows “the reason“.

10.) It is very unusual to find a tone-unit boundary at a place where the only grammatical boundary is between words.

We need to use “where” here because it follows “a place“.

11.) Since 1983, the year when the first of a series of large scale mass media campaigns started, the average annual fall has been 2.54%.

We need to use “when” here because we are referring to a time (“the year when”).

12.) The latter makes what is already an internally homogeneous organization even more enclosed and protective.

We need to use “what” here because it means “the thing that“. It follows “makes” here, which is a verb not a noun.

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Activity 3: Reduced relative clauses

1.) The French verse recited to Mrs. Belville is from Voltaire’s adaptation “Nanine”. (“which is” omitted)
2.) Some writing called art criticism will be helpful, some will not. (“which is” omitted)
3.) The British reader is likely to have been spared certain of the varieties of suffering spoken of in the writings of Kundera and Klima. (“which are” omitted)
4.) Whether a top-down or bottom-up approach is used, this categorization often obscures similarities between items placed in separate categories. (“that have been” omitted)
5.) The data and data structures identified can be mapped on to conventional computer files or clerical files and not necessarily databases. (“that have been” omitted)
6.) “Push” factors refer to the difficulties of earning a living described in the previous chapter. (“that were” omitted)
7.) All the managers’ time was spent on the people planning to stay on, so the ones planning to leave at the end of the year did not take part in performance appraisal meetings.(both “who were” and “that were” omitted)
8.) The integral (6.24) involves two continuous functions monotonically decreasing for positive arguments. (“that are” omitted)
9.) The forms described by King and Williams are characteristic of tideless seas, such as the Mediterranean and the Baltic. (“which have been” omitted)
10.) Any letters containing results and which have arrived late will be forwarded to your home addresses. (“which” omitted, “contain” becomes “containing“)
11.) None of the clinical symptoms recognised as symptoms of primary HIV infection differed between HIV positive drug users and those negative for HIV. (“that were” omitted)
12.) Anyone taking the IELTS examination next month must pay and register at reception before 5 o’clock today. (“who will be” omitted)

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Review of main points

In this Learning Object we have focused on relative clauses. There are two kinds: defining and non-defining. Defining relative clauses add essential information and answer the question, “Which one(s)?” In defining clauses it is possible to use “that” instead of the relative pronoun or adverb, although if “that” or “which” replaces “where“, another preposition is needed in the sentence. A defining relative clause does not need to be separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

It is possible to omit the relative pronoun when it is the object of a defining relative clause.

On the other hand, a non-defining relative clause adds an extra, non-essential piece of information to a sentence. In non-defining relative clauses, the relative pronoun or adverb cannot be replaced by “that” and the clause must be separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

Concerning the choice of relative adverbs or pronouns, the relative adverbs “where“, “when” and “why” can be used for location, time, and the reason for something happening, respectively. All can be replaced by “that” in defining relative clauses but, as stated above, if “that” (or “which“) replaces “where” an extra preposition must be added to the sentence. We use “which” for things and “who” is used for people, and in defining relative clauses “that” is also always possible. Remember, it is not possible to use “that” in a non-defining relative clause.

In both defining and non-defining relative clauses, the object form of “who“, which is “whom“, is usually only used in formal writing, but it must be used if it directly follows a preposition. The possessive form of “who“, which is “whose“, is used usually for people.

The relative pronoun “what” is only used after a verb, never after a noun, and means “the thing(s) that“.

In non-defining relative clauses, expressions such as, “all of/most of/many of/much of/(a) few of/some of/any of/half of/each of/both of/neither of/either of/one of/two of etc.” are followed by “whom” for people and “which” for things as the subject of the verb in the relative clause.

Reduced relative clauses (also called participial phrases) are especially common in academic English. We focused on defining relative clauses. When the relative pronoun is the subject, it is possible to omit the relative pronoun and any auxiliary verbs then change the verb to a present participle (“-ing“) with an active meaning, or a past participle (regular verbs form the past participle with “-ed“) with a passive meaning.

The following website contains further explanations of relative clauses:
Academic Writing in English (AWE)

Books with explanations of relative clauses, or exercises to practise relative clauses:

  • “English Grammar In Use” by Raymond Murphy, pgs. 176-186
  • “Grammar in Context” by Hugh Gethin, pgs. 73-88
  • “A Practical English Grammar” by A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet, pgs. 81-90
  • “Writing Academic English” by Oshima and Hogue, pgs. 209-244
  • “Advanced English Practice” By B.D. Graver, pgs. 116-135
  • “A University Grammar of English” by Quirk and Greenbaum, pgs. 375-386
  • “How English Works” by Swan and Walter, pgs. 270-281
  • “Oxford Practice Grammar” by John Eastwood, pgs.137-144
  • “Advanced Language Practice” by Michael Vince, pgs. 111-118
  • “Practical English Usage” by Michael Swan, pgs. 474-478

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