How to use relative clauses in English

What is a relative clause and how do we use them? What's the difference between a defining and a non-defining relative clause? Watch this video lesson to find out everything you need to know about relative clauses in English...



In this video lesson we're going to look at relative clauses. We're going to look at defining and non-defining relative clauses. We'll look at an example using both defining and non-defining to see what the difference is and we'll look at the form together so we know how to use them.

So what is a relative clause? Basically a relative clause is extra information added to a sentence. In some examples the information is extra information but is not necessary to the sentence and in other examples the information is important to the sentence, we need that information. So we connect a relative clause to a sentence using a relative pronoun and the relative pronouns we have in English are who or whom, which, whose or that. So to help us understand we're going to look at the same sentence but the first example will be a defining relative clause and the second example will be the same sentence but as a non-defining relative clause to see how the sentence changes.

So here's the first example: "The man who is from Spain offered me a job". So in this example sentence we're using the relative pronoun 'who' to refer to a person. So why do we need this relative clause in this sentence? Why is it a defining relative clause? Well the best way to look at this is to ask the question 'How many men are there?' In this example, the answer is 'more than one man'. So for that reason we need a defining relative clause. We need to define which man we're talking about. There are lots of other men but we're only talking about one particular man. The man who is from Spain. Let's say for example there are three men and they're all from different countries, so in order to understand which man we're talking about we use the defining relative clause. Now we know exactly which man we're talking about. The man who is from Spain offered me a job.

Now let's look at the same sentence but using a non-defining relative clause. "The man, who is from Spain, offered me a job". So in this example notice that there are commas. The commas separate the relative clause from the rest of the sentence. Now what this means is we can take the relative clause out of the sentence and it doesn't change the main sentence. It's just extra information. So in this case, how many men are there? The answer is: there's only one man. One man from Spain and he offered me a job. And it's extra information that he comes from Spain. We don't need to know that. It's just interesting, extra information. So for this reason, the relative clause is non-defining. We could also use the possessive relative pronoun 'whose'. So for example: "The man whose company I work for is from Spain". And this just means that the company belongs to this man. In defining relative clauses you could replace the relative pronoun with 'that'. So you could say: "The man that is from Spain offered me a job". But remember in non-defining relative clauses you can't use 'that'. So an easy way to remember is: in a relative clause, don't use 'that' after a comma. Only use 'who' or 'which'.

Finally, we can sometimes drop the relative pronoun, but only when the relative pronoun is referring to the object of the sentence. Here's an example. "That's the woman who helped me". The woman helped me. She's the subject, I'm the object. Therefore, we need the relative pronoun in this sentence. However, "That's the woman who I helped". Or you could say: "That's the woman whom I helped". I helped the woman. I'm the subject, she's the object. Therefore, in this sentence it's really common to drop the relative pronoun. So we would say: "That's the woman I helped". It's just easier and it's quicker to say this. Obviously when we're referring to the object we use 'whom' in English. However, these days 'whom' sounds, it sounds a lot is a lot more formal and it's not so common to use it, so if you use 'who' instead of 'whom' it's not a big problem. Many people use 'who' instead of 'whom' these days but it is still more correct to use 'whom' when referring to the object.

OK, so that's relative clauses. If you...if you're not too sure then go back and watch the video again. It's always easier the second time. Remember to 'like' the video, share it with your friends and subscribe to my YouTube channel and go to to take a course to help improve your English. Good luck, keep practising and I'll see you in the next video lesson.