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Unit 26 relative clauses


 Relative clauses A


 Relative clauses are short phrases beginning with words like who, that and which that define or describe people and things. There are two types:


 Defining relative clauses: we use these to identify exactly which person or thing we mean. The candidate who we interviewed on Friday is better than this one. The relative clause is part of the noun phrase. The information is necessary for the sentence to make sense.


 Non-defining relative clauses: we use these to add extra information about a person or thing. Capellas, whose father was a Greek immigrant who entered the United States after World War II, returned yesterday to Greece on a business trip. (International Herald Tribune website)


The information may be interesting, but it is not a necessary part of the sentence. To show this in writing we use commas.


Non-defining clauses are more common in writing. In speech, we often give the same information by just using two short sentences. Compare: The salesman, who was very helpful, said this model was in stock, (writing) 'The salesman was very helpful. He said this model was in stock.' (speech)


 Look again at the previous example. Remember that we are just adding extra information about a salesman. If there is more than one salesman and we want to say which one we are talking about, then we use a defining relative clause.

'The salesman who I spoke to on the phone yesterday said this model was in stock, but now you tell me that you don't have any. I've come all the way here to buy it.'


 Relative pronouns B


 The words who, which, that, whom and whose can begin a relative clause. They are called relative pronouns.


 For people both who and that are used, but who is more common. The candidate who they chose for the job has a finance background.


 For things or ideas both which and that are used, but that is more common, especially in speech. The products that you ordered were sent today.



Were already thinking about what, well be selling in five years time. In this business its essential to plan ahead.(=to make decisions and plans about what you will do in the future)


 The relative pronoun whose shows that something belongs to someone or something. The European Union is an organization whose policies change quite slowly.


 In formal English it is possible to use whom instead of who where who is the object of the sentence. But in modern English most speakers only use who. The candidate who/whom we chose for the job has an MBA in corporate finance.


 Leaving out the relative pronoun in a defining relative clause C


 We can leave out who, which, that (but not whose) in a defining relative clause if they are followed immediately by a noun or pronoun. The technician (who) Tony spoke to said the network was working fine. The salad (which/that) I had for my starter was superb. This is usual in spoken English.


 We must keep the relative pronoun if it is followed immediately by a verb. The technician who spoke to Tony said the network was working fine. The salad which/that came with the fish was superb.


 Non-defining relative clauses D


 We must keep the relative pronoun in non-defining clauses. We cannot leave it out (it makes no difference whether it is followed by a noun or a verb).The technician, who my colleagues know well, said the network was working fine.


 That is never used in a non-defining relative clause. Chile, which is an important market for us, is having some currency problems


 Relative pronouns and prepositions E


 Normally we put prepositions at the end of the relative clause.

a)The person (who) I got these figures from said they were accurate. b)Unilever is a company (that/which) we know quite a lot about. c)The person (who) I spoke to was called Pam.

 But in formal English it is possible to put prepositions in front of whom, which

and whose (but not who or that). Compare with the previous examples:



There are still one or two things Im not quite sure about. Could we just run through the details of our agreement once more?(=to quickly read or look at something, especially in order to check or find something)


a) The person from whom I got these figures said they were accurate.

(formal, rare)

b) Unilever is a company about which we know quite a lot.(formal, rare)

c) The person to who I spoke was called Pam. (incorrect)


 Combining sentences F


 Look at this example of two short separate sentences.

I'm taking a flight. It goes via Frankfurt.


We can combine the sentences using a relative clause. There are two ways, but the meanings are the same. a) I'm taking a flight that goes via Frankfurt. OR b) The flight (that) I'm taking goes via Frankfurt.


 Note that articles often change when sentences are combined.

a) has a flight, like the original short sentence, because the flight is mentioned for the first time and there are several of them.

b) has the flight because there is only one in the speaker's mind.


 Use of what, where, when, why G


 We can use the relative pronoun what to mean the thing(s) that. I didn't understand what she said. (= the things that she said) What we need is a better marketing strategy. (= the thing that we need is)

Having a few huge corporations control our outlets of expression could lead to less aggressive news coverage and a more muted marketplace of ideas. Conglomeration affects what the media companies do and, in turn, what you read, watch, and hear. (Brillscontent website)


 We can use the relative adverbs where, when and why with their normal meanings to identify which thing we are talking about.

Analysts said it was difficult to understand the reason why the European

Central Bank had cut rates. (Observer website)


 We can leave out when or why, or use that

Do you remember the day (when) I started working here?

Do you remember the day that I started working here?


 We must keep where, except when there is a preposition at the end of the clause.

In this case we leave it out or use that. The hotel where I stayed was quite cheap. The hotel (that) I stayed in was quite cheap.



All copies of the new game had sold out within an hour so that the store had to order some more.(=to have no more of something left to sell, because they have all been bought)




Exercise 1 (A)

Decide whether the words in italics are defining or non defining relative clauses. Write D or ND.


1 The man who is in reception has been waiting for ten minutes.

2 The food, which was very nice, was served at the bar. 

3 The projector, which has a new bulb, is over there. 

4 The projector which has a new bulb is over there. 

5 The train which leaves at 8 am doesn't stop at Bath. 


Exercise 2 (B)

Complete the sentences with who, whose or that.


1 The customer ..... company I visited is phoning this afternoon.

2 The manual ..... they sent explains everything.

3 It's difficult to say ..... this fax was sent by.

4 The candidates ..... CVs I looked at this morning were all very good.

5 I don't remember ..... I spoke to when I called yesterday.

6 Your colleague, ..... I met this morning, had a different opinion.

7 Toyota is a manufacturer ..... reputation is excellent all over the world.


Exercise 3 (C, D)

Put a bracket around the relative pronoun if you can leave it out. Put a tick at the end if you must keep the relative pronoun.


1 The book that you lent me about e-commerce is really interesting.

2 The company which is our main competitor is Apollo.

3 The name which they chose for the new model is Prima.

4 The meeting room, which wasn't very large, became hot and stuffy.

5 In the end, the sales campaign was the best that we'd ever had.

6 These are the people whose names appear on the database.

7 The people who attended the presentation found it very useful.


Exercise 4 (E)




The Race Relations Board was originally set up in 1965.(=to start a business or organization)


Rewrite the formal sentence as everyday informal sentences, beginning as shown.


1 These are the colleagues with whom I went to the conference. These are the colleagues I ..... .

2 This is the breakthrough for which we have been waiting. This is the breakthrough we ..... .

3 That's the hotel at which I stayed.

That's the hotel I ..... .

4 When I call the accountants, Richard is the person with whom I

usually deal. When I call the accountants, Richard is the person I ..... .

5 This is the catalogue from which we choose the samples. This is the catalogue we ..... .

6 This is the area for which I am responsible.

This is the area I ..... .


Exercise 5 (F)

Combine each pair of sentences by including the word given in brackets.


1 Last year we introduced a new line. It's aimed at the youth market. (that) The new line ...... is aimed at the youth market.

2 I'd like you to meet a colleague. He could be a useful contact for you. (who) I'd like you to meet a colleague..... .

3 A candidate's CV is on your desk. She deserves an interview. (whose) The candidate..... deserves an interview.

4 A visitor is coming next week. She's from our Paris office. (who) The visitor ..... is from our Paris office.

5 Tom took me to a restaurant. It was called 'Noodle Heaven'. (that) The restaurant ..... was called 'Noodle Heaven'.

6 I heard a man's presentation. He was an investment banker. (whose) The man ..... was an investment banker.

7 Here is a mobile phone. I was telling you about it. (that) Here is the mobile phone ..... .

8 Over there is a site. They're going to build a new factory, (where) The site ..... is over there.


Exercise 6 (F)

If the sentence is correct put a tick () at the end. If the sentence has a word which should not be there write the incorrect word at the end.




After it was recommended on television, sales of shampoo really took off.(=to suddenly start being successful)


1 The woman who I asked didn't know the way. .....

2 The firm whose their stand was at the back had very few visitors. .....

3 That was the longest meeting I've ever been in. .....

4 The train which it goes to Brussels leaves from here. .....

5 The products which sell best they are those with nice packaging. .....

6 This model, which it was launched last year, is selling very well. .....

7 Everyone that I spoke to advised me to try again. .....

8 The company where I used to work it was called Interlink. .....


Exercise 7 (B, C)

Underline the correct words.


1 The flight which I who I'm taking leaves from Terminal 2.

2 She's from the company which/whose products we distribute.

3 Everyone who/which was at the meeting will receive a copy of the minutes.

4 Message. To whom/who it may concern: please do not leave dirty coffee cups here.

5 There were some interesting ideas at the meeting that/what I went to.

6 That/What I like best about my job is the contact with people.

7 Has anybody seen the folder what/that I left on this desk?



You really dont seem able to deal with my problem so Ill have to take this matter up with your head office.(=to try to make people pay attention to a problem or an unfair situation)


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