Explanations » B1 Grammar Explanations » Defining and non-defining relative clauses
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Defining vs non-defining – Grammar chart

Defining and non-defining relative clauses

Defining relative clauses

Defining relative clauses carry essential information because they identify which thing or person we are talking about, and they are used without commas.

  • This is the music which was used at the show
  • Have they found the prisoner who escaped last week?

We can use that

In defining relative clauses, we can use that instead of which or who.

  • This is the music that was used at the show. 
  • Have they found the prisoner that escaped last week?

When can we omit who/which/that?

Who/which/that can be omitted if they are followed by subject + verb

  • Can you pass me the box (which/that) I keep in the top drawer?
  • You are not the man (who/that) I thought you were. 

 

Non-defining relative clauses

Non-defining relative clauses are used between commas, and they add extra information, which is not necessary to know who or what we are talking about.

  • This music, which I really like, was used at the show.
  • My sister, who I truly admire, is coming for Thanksgiving. 

We cannot use that, and we cannot omit who/which

In non-defining relative clauses (between commas), we cannot use that, and we cannot omit who/which.

  • This music, that I really like, was used at the show. blank
  • This music, which I really like, was used at the show. blank
  • My sister, I truly admire, is coming for Thanksgiving. blank
  • My sister, whom I truly admire, is coming for Thanksgiving. blank

Defining vs non-defining relative clauses

In a defining relative clause, the information is essential to identify who or what we are talking about, whereas in non-defining relative clauses, we just add extra information, which is not necessary. Compare:

  • My brother who lives in Cardiff is much older than me. (=I have more than one brother, and the relative clause helps identify which brother I am talking about)
  • My brother, who lives in Cardiff, is much older than me. (=I have only one brother, so we don’t need the relative clause to know who I am talking about)

Relative pronouns and adverbs

Here, you can see a grammar chart with the relative pronouns and adverbs that we normally use in relative clauses.

Relative clauses - Relative pronouns and relative adverbs

Common mistakes

Two subjects

When who, which, or that is the subject of a relative clause, we don’t use another pronoun or noun after it because we can only have one subject (who, which, or that).

  • I saw a man who he was very tall. blank
  • I saw a man who was very tall. blank
  • That is the painting that it was stolen from the gallery. blank
  • That is the painting that was stolen from the gallery. blank

That between commas

We cannot use the relative pronoun that in a non-defining relative clause (between commas)

  • The victim, that suffered a concussion, said he didn’t remember the accident. blank
  • The victim, who suffered a concussion, said he didn’t remember the accident. blank