Learn English Grammar: The Adjective Clause (Relative Clause)


Hi. Welcome back to www.engvid.com.

I'm Adam.

In today's lesson we're going to look at the adjective clause.

Now, this is a dependent clause, and if you're not sure what the difference between dependent

or independent clause, you can check out my video about the independent clause and my

introduction video to dependent clauses.

In this lesson we're going to dive a little bit deeper into this particular dependent

clause, the adjective clause.

Now, some of you will have grammar...

Different grammar books, and some of you will see this called the relative clause.

Relative clause, adjective clause, same thing.

Different books like to call them different things. Okay?

So we're going to look at this.

Now, the first thing to remember about an adjective clause before we look at the actual

structure of it, the full clause is essentially an adjective.

Although it's a clause, means it has a subject, and a verb, and maybe some modifiers - the

whole piece, the whole clause together works like an adjective.

So, because it works like an adjective: What does that mean?

It means that it's giving you some information about a noun somewhere in the sentence.

You could have many nouns in a sentence, you could have many adjective clauses in a sentence.

There's no limit to how many you can have, although try not to have too many in one sentence

because the sentence becomes very bulky, not a very good sentence.

So let's get right into it.

First of all, we have two types of adjective clause.

We have a defining adjective clause, which means that it's basically pointing to the

noun and telling you something necessary about the noun.

Without the adjective clause, the noun is incomplete.

I don't know what it is, I don't know what it's doing, etc.

The second adjective clause is the modifying, means it is not necessary but we put it in

to give a little bit of extra information about the noun.


So it's like an adjective that just gives you a little bit more description about the noun.

Two things to remember: The defining noun.

Now, one of the biggest questions about adjective clauses is: Do I use a comma or do I not use a comma?

For defining adjective clauses, no comma.

For modifying, like the extra information, the ones that you could actually take out

and the sentence is still okay, use a comma.

We're going to look at examples and understand this more.

Now, another thing to know about adjective clauses: They all begin with a relative pronoun.

Okay? A relative pronoun.

This is basically the conjunction of the clause.

It is what begins the clause.

Now, some of these can be also the subject of the clause, which means it will agree with

the verb; some of them cannot.

So these three...

Whoa, sorry.

"That", "which", and "who" can be both the conjunction and the subject.

These ones: "whom", "whose", "when", "where", and "why" cannot be the subject of the clause;

only the relative pronoun, only the conjunction of the clause.

Now, in many cases, "that" can also be removed, but we're going to look at that separately.

So, let's look at some examples to get an idea.

"The man lives next door."

So here we have an independent clause.

Independent clause means it's a complete idea, it stands by itself as a sentence, it doesn't

really need anything else.

But the problem is "the man".

Which man?

That man, that man, the man across the street?

I don't know.

So this sentence, although it's grammatically complete, is technically, in terms of meaning,

incomplete because I don't know who this man is.

I need to identify him.

So you can think of defining or identifying.

Okay? I want to point specifically to one man because I have "the man".

I'm looking at somebody specific.

So here's one way we can do it: "The man who lives next door"-"who lives next door"

-"is a doctor". Okay?

So, again, I still have my independent clause: "The man is a doctor", but now I have my adjective,

my identifying adjective clause telling me who the man is.

Now, because I need this, I need this clause to identify, to define this man amongst all

the possible men, then there's no comma here if you'll notice.

And "who" is also the subject of the clause.

Subject: "who", "lives" verb.

Now, before I continue: What's the difference between "who" and "whom"?

"Who" can be a subject, "whom" can only be an object.

So you can never use "whom" with a verb.

If you see "whom" beginning an adjective clause, there must be a separate subject in that clause,

otherwise you're using it incorrectly.


Same with these: "whose", "when", "where", and "why" all must have a separate subject

to go with the verb in the clause.

So now, I've identified the man, now I have a complete sentence with complete meaning.

I can go on to my next sentence.

Let's look at this example: "Dr. Smith, who lives next door, is a retired surgeon."

Now, here you'll notice...

Well, let me go back to my red pen, here.

Here you'll notice I have a comma and a comma.

What does this mean?

It means that "who lives next door" is just extra information.

I can take it out.

"Dr. Smith is a retired surgeon."

Here's my independent clause.

Complete, doesn't need any more information.

This is a choice.

I want to give you a little bit of information, tell you where he lives.

Now, you're thinking: "Well, why don't I need to identify him?"

Because this is a proper name.

Dr. Smith, I've already identified him by saying who, Dr. Smith.

That's the person, that's his name, that's his honorific.

He's a doctor, Smith.

There's not that many Dr. Smiths around here anyway, so we already know who he is.

I don't need to identify him, so this is extra information.


Now, you can use all of these with a comma or without a comma.

You can use all the conjunctions, all the relative pronouns I should say more correctly,

you can use all of them in both identifying and non-identifying.

We're just modifying uses.

By the way, "modifying", just in case, means to change.

So when you modify something, basically you're changing the meaning of it because you're

giving more information, you're giving a more complete meaning so you're slightly changing it.

So, for example, if I say: "The car", well, it could be any car, but if I say:

"The red car",

then I'm specifically pointing to one and I've changed the meaning of the word "car"

because I've made it only one specific car, so I've modified the noun.


We're going to look at some more examples and you'll see...

But before that, actually, "that" and "which" we use when we're talking out...

When the noun is a thing.


You could use "that" for people, but why?

You have "who" or "whom".

If you have "who", use "who"; if you have "that", use "that" for things.

That way you don't confuse yourself, less chance to make a mistake.

One of the problems with this word: "whose", everybody...

Or not everybody, but many people...

I shouldn't say that, sorry.

"Who", this word has nothing to do with "who", has nothing to do with person only.

"Whose" means possession.


It doesn't have to be about a person.

A thing can possess something.

The car whose front door...

Left door is scratched is going to be repaired next week.

"Whose" means the door belongs to the car.

The car is a thing, but I can still use "whose".

So don't confuse "whose" with people.

It's just possession.

"When", time; "where", place; "why".

I put this one in brackets because really you can only say: "The reason why he did that."


I'm a grammar purist, I'm sorry to say, and some of you might laugh at me, but I hate

when I see: "The reason why."

It's not wrong, it's commonly used, it's accepted, but reason is a thing.

So I say: "The reason that he", etc.

There's no need to use "why".

The reason means why, use that.

But if you use "why", you're okay, that's why I've put it in brackets.

I don't like it, but it's acceptable.

Use at your own discretion.

Okay, let's look at some more examples.

Okay, let's look at a few more samples, and we'll get into a little bit more detail about

what's going on.

"Jerry went to the same store where Jennifer bought her couch."

So now, Jerry went shopping for a couch, and he went to a particular place.

So he went to the same store where...

So now I'm pointing to a place, the store.

I could say: "The same store that Jennifer bought her couch at", but not a very good sentence.

If it's a place, I can point to it as a place.

Just use "where".

I'm going to show you after, I'm going to show you a different way to say it using "at",

"which", or whatever, a preposition plus "which".

We're going to get to that.

So, another thing you'll notice: There's no comma here.

I'm identifying the store.

The same store as what?

The same store as she went, the same store as she went? No.

The same store where Jennifer bought her couch.

So I have to identify which store.

Another thing to keep in mind: The adjective clause must almost always come right after

the noun that it is modifying.


Sometimes there are exceptions, I will show you those in a minute as well.

So, no comma means identifying.

"Frank went to study in Boston."

Now, Boston, first of all you'll notice a capital B so it's a proper name.

Everybody knows this city, Boston, I don't need to identify it.

So anything that comes in the adjective clause after will follow the comma because it's modifying,

it's extra information.

"...where" means Boston, the place, the city.

"...where some of the world's best universities are based."

Simple enough.

But again, right after the noun it's modifying.

Now, generally speaking, when you have an identifying or defining clause with no commas,

you're going to use "that".

When you have a modifying clause with commas, you're going to use "which" when we're talking

about things.

But there are occasions where you can use "that" or "which".

In many grammar books you will see "which" or "that", you can use them both.

I prefer that you use "that" with identifying, "which" with non-identifying, but there are

occasions where I would use "which" instead.

"The only effort that matters is that which leads to a win."


Now, what is this?

Keep in mind that the word "that" is one of the most confusing words in English because

it has many functions.

In this case, this is a pronoun, a demonstrative pronoun.

"That" means "that effort".

Okay? So, here, it's a noun basically.

It's a pronoun.

So I am modifying this noun with this adjective clause.

So I could say: "The only effort that matters is that that leads to a win."

Not wrong, it's totally okay, you can say that, but having "that" and "that" can be

a little bit confusing, can sound a little bit off, which is why I prefer to use "which"

in this case.

Otherwise, I would go with "that" for the identifying clause.


I'm talking about the effort, the specific effort that leads to a win.

Okay? But, again, I don't want to have: "that that", so I'm going to use "which" in this case.

Otherwise, not. We're going to look at a few more examples to have a better idea of when to use what.

Okay, let's look at our next examples, and a few things to mention here specifically

about adjective clauses.

So first remember I said that the adjective clause must always come right after the noun

it's modifying.

There are exceptions.

This is the thing about English, there's exceptions to every rule.

Let's look at this example:

"Many students in Mrs. Reynold's class who went on the field trip are home sick..."

Oh, sorry.

"...are home sick with the flu that's going around".


Now, is this adjective clause: "who went on the field trip"...

A field trip is basically in school when the kids go out to a museum or to a play or whatever,

that's called a field trip.

Is this modifying "class"?

No, of course not.

"Class" is not a person, I can't use "who".

I'm obviously talking about the students.

I'm modifying the students.

So it's very far away.

In this case it's probably okay because: A) I have a prepositional phrase.


So the prepositional phrase basically completes the idea of students, so "students" is the

actual noun.

Now, another thing is it's very clear that "who" is not talking about "class".

In this case, it's very difficult for a reader to get confused.

The reader knows that it's about students, and therefore it's okay to do it.

Try to avoid it.

If you can write another way, if you can say:

"Many students who went on the field trip in Mrs. Reynold's class",

this actually is a much more confusing sentence.

If you try to put the modifier...

If you try to put the adjective clause directly after "students", you would make the sentence

even more complicated.

If you can put it like this and it's clear and it's easy to understand, leave it.

If you can't, rearrange the entire sentence to put it a different way so you can put the

adjective clause next to the noun if you think the reader will be confused.

"...are home sick"-this is two words-"with the flu that's going around".

Now, the reason I added this...

This is, again: "...that is going", we have another adjective clause identifying which

flu we're talking about.

There's a flu that's going around to all the kids.

All I wanted to show you here that you can have a sentence with more than one adjective clause.

You can have many adjective clauses.

As many nouns as there are in a sentence, that's how many adjective clauses you can have.

You can even have an adjective clause inside an adjective clause if that first adjective

clause has a noun in it.

Okay? But again, the more you put in, the more chance there are to confuse your reader.

And again, we're talking more about writing than speaking here.

In speaking you can get away with a lot more.

Now, another thing: Remember what I said, again, about putting it right behind, right

next to the noun you're modifying?

Except for the case of "which".

An adjective clause with "which" can modify the entire clause before it.

So this "which" is not about "test".


This "which" is modifying the entire clause.

"Larry failed his test," so "which" talks about this situation,

"means he'll have to go to summer school".


So this "which" is talking about the entire situation, but you can only do it with "which",

you can't do it with "that" necessarily.

And, again, we're still doing...

We're still doing a comma because when you're doing it like this, "which" above the entire

clause, there's always going to be a comma because you're not identifying the noun before it.

One other thing to look at here:

"...which means that he'll have to go to summer school".

Another thing you have to keep in mind is that the pronoun "that" can also begin a noun clause.

If you're not sure about noun clauses, I have a video about those.

You can check that out and you can learn about noun clauses that act...

In this particular case, the noun clause acts as an object to the verb "means".

Means what? "...that he'll have to go to summer school".

So, again, you have a sentence, you have a clause inside a clause, and the whole clause

is about the whole other clause.


No, not really.

Everything has to make sense.

That's the beauty about English, it must makes sense.

If you know how to cut everything into its proper pieces, if you know how to relate every

word or every phrase or every clause to everything around it, it all makes sense.

So be patient, slowly go through every piece.

Make sure that everything has its place, has its function, has its purpose.


Last one.

One last thing you want to know about adjective clauses: Sometimes we can use a preposition

with a conjunction, with a relative pronoun.

Most commonly you're going to use "who" or "which" to use these, and the thing to remember

about the preposition: They're regular prepositions.

They still have the same function as a preposition.

So, "about" means regarding something, you're talking about something, you're pointing to something.

So in this case, a billionaire is the person.

"...about whom", so: "...the public knows little..."

Whoa, sorry, I doubled here.

Don't do that.

Don't put both the preposition at the beginning and the end, only at the beginning.

You could say: "...whom the public knows little about".

But some grammar teachers will tell you that's bad English, never put "about" at the end

of the clause; always put at the beginning or other places.

"...about whom the public knows little, donated millions to charity".

So: "The eccentric billionaire donated to charity"-that's your independent clause-

"about whom the public knows".

So "knows" is your verb, "...knows little about the billionaire".


The car in which the actor arrived to the party is a Lamborghini.

The car in which, so the actor arrived in the car, in the Lamborghini, in which, about

whom, about which.

To which, to whom.

You can use any combination of preposition with pronoun, but remember that the preposition

takes the function of a preposition, nothing else.

Okay, so again, there's lots...

A lot more examples that we could go through, but they all basically function in the same way.

An adjective clause is an adjective.

In a different lesson we're going to look at the way that adjective clauses can be reduced

to one word or one phrase, but that's a different lesson that you can watch that and learn about that.

And lots of things you can do.

Remember that there are three dependent clauses: Noun clause, adjective clause, adverb clause.

There's a lesson for each one of those.

You can watch those.

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See you next time.