Adjective Clauses

Clauses are made of subjects and verbs that may need another clause to be completely meaningful. Adjective clauses function as the adjectives of sentences.

Adjective Clauses in the English Grammar

What Are Adjective Clauses?

An adjective clause (also called a relative clause) is a dependent clause that modify or describe a noun or pronoun in the main clause of a sentence.

Adjective Clauses: Characteristics

Adjective clauses:

  1. are dependent clauses: they have a subject and a verb, but cannot stand alone
  2. typically start with a relative pronoun
  3. modify or describe a noun or pronoun
  4. come after the noun they modify

Adjective Clauses: Structure

Adjective clauses can be formed using relative pronouns, relative adverbs, or prepositions.

With Relative Pronouns

Most commonly, an adjective clause begins with a relative pronoun. The relative pronoun connects a clause to a noun or pronoun. Relative pronouns are:

Take a look at some examples:

The woman who was driving must be the one to blame.

I spent two hours talking to Kim, whom I'd met only once before.

That's the man whose house we painted.

The people that live next door are having a party.

Did you see the letter which came today?

Grammatical Function of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns can serve different grammatical functions in the sentence:

Subject Object Possessive
who who/whom whose
which which whose
that that -

It was my friend who told everybody my secret. → subject relative pronoun

The child whom they found was sent home. → object relative pronoun

This is the boy whose parents are both professors. → possessive relative pronoun

Elliptical Relative Pronoun

Sometimes, when the object of the relative clause is 'that', we can omit it without changing the meaning of the sentence. The technical name for a missing relative pronoun is an elliptical relative pronoun.

I like the cookies that she makes. → I like the cookies she makes.

using an adjective clause in a sentence

With Relative Adverbs

Relative adverbs can be used at the beginning of a dependent clause to create a relative clause. When a relative adverb connects the dependent clause to a noun in the sentence, the resulting clause is called an adjective clause. Relative adverbs are:

Take a look at some examples:

Today was the day when I was supposed to get married.

This is the place where I hid the key.

Just tell me the reason why you did this.

With Prepositions

In informal English, when the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition, you can put the preposition at the end of the clause. However, in formal English, the preposition is typically placed before the pronoun.

This is the book which we had been looking for. (Informal) → This is the book for which we had been looking. (Formal)

It was Jack that I was really worried about. (Informal) → It was Jack about whom I was really worried. (formal)

Pay attention that in this example, 'that' has become 'whom'.

Essential vs. Non-Essential Adjective Clauses

The information provided by an adjective clause might be very important to the meaning of the sentence, or it might be unimportant and additional.

Essential Adjective Clauses

Essential (also called restrictive) adjective clauses contain information that is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. An essential adjective clause does not need any punctuation marks.

Do you know the people who live across the road?

In this example, the information in the adjective clause is essential, because without it, the sentence would simply say 'Do you know the people?'

Non-essential Clauses

A non-essential (also called nonrestrictive) adjective clause gives us extra information and omitting it would not change or damage the meaning of the sentence.
Non-essential adjective clauses are set apart from the rest of the sentence with a comma to indicate that they are less closely connected to the main clause. Pay attention to the examples:

I discussed it with my father, who is a dentist.

In this example, the adjective clause gives extra information and is not necessary to the overall meaning of the sentence.

Adjective Clause vs. Adjective Phrase

An adjective clause has a subject and a verb. But, an adjective phrase does not need a subject and a verb.

This house is big enough for two people.

an adjective phrase made of up an adverb (enough) and an adjective (big)

The house that he built is big.

an adjective clause with a subject (he) and a verb (built)


An adjective clause (also called a relative clause) is a dependent clause that acts as a multi-word adjective modifying a noun or a pronoun. There are two different types of adjective clauses as follows:

  • restrictive adjective clause
  • non-restrictive adjective clause


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