Relative Clauses


Spot a relative clause

  • It has a subject and verb, but it is not a complete sentence on its own.
  • It starts with a relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, that, which) or a relative adverb (when, where, why)
  • It acts as an adjective to describe more details about the person, place, thing or idea that it is defining.

Note the structures

He had a dog that I did not like.
     -There is a relative pronoun “that,” followed by a subject and verb. This structure uses an object pronoun.

He had a dog that was mean.  
     -The relative pronoun “that” is the subject of the following verb. This uses a subject pronoun.


If you are introducing a relative clause that is essential information, do not use a comma to separate the clause. This information in the relative clause is defining the rest of the sentence and is necessary.

Example: Please pick the person who will be on your team.
It is important information that the person picked will be on the team, so there are no commas.

If you are introducing a relative clause that is non-essential information, separate the clause with a comma. The relative clause is adding extra information that is non-defining, and the sentence makes just as much sense if you take out the relative clause.

Example: My neighbor’s dog, which is the cutest dog on the block, came running over to me with its tail wagging.
The fact that the dog is the cutest on the block is not important to the meaning of the sentence; therefore, the clause is separated by commas.

Not sure whether your clause is essential or non-essential (defining or non-defining) information?

Try removing the clause from the sentence. If the sentence still has all the important information, then your clause has non-essential information and is non-defining. In this case, use commas to separate the clause.


Ask in the Comments Form on the side of the page or book a class with me to practice relative clauses!