Grammar: The Relative Clause

Posted December 22, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

Essentially, a relative clause acts as an adjective* to answer questions like What kind?, How many?, Who?, or Which one?, etc. Starting with a relative pronoun or relative adverb, the relative clause itself is a dependent clause with its own subject and verb.

* It’s why the relative clause is also referred to as the adjective or adjectival clause.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Relative Clause
Credit to: GrammarBook.com; Robin L. Simmons; Kent Law; Grammar Bytes; ChompChomp
Definition: A type of dependent clause with its own subject + verb that is connected to the independent clause of the sentence by a relative pronoun or a relative adverb to answer the questions of what, who, how many, etc.

NOTE: The subject in a relative clause sometimes is the relative pronoun or relative adverb.

POST CONTENTS

A.k.a., adjective clause, adjectival clause

Using a Relative Adverb Rule: Introduces a relative clause with a relative adverb that answers the how, that, where, when, why, etc.

Click for a list of relative adverbs.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the relative adverb
  2. Blue indicates the subject of the relative clause
  3. Purple indicates the verb of the relative clause
  4. Yellow indicates the independent clause

We tried our luck at the same flea market where George found Amazing Spider-Man #96 in fair condition.

Michelle screamed when she saw the spider that dangled from the one clean bathroom towel.

Using a Relative Pronoun Rule: Introduces a relative clause with a relative pronoun that answers the what, which, who, etc.

Click for a list of relative pronouns.

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Legend:

  1. Green indicates the relative pronoun
  2. Blue indicates the subject of the relative clause
  3. Purple indicates the verb of the relative clause
  4. Yellow indicates the independent clause

To calm his angry girlfriend, Joey offered an apology which Francine did not accept.

Brian said goodnight to his roommate Justin, who continued to play video games until his eyes were blurry with fatigue.

Comma Rules for the Relative Clause
The rules for essential and non-essential apply to relative clauses. You may also want to check out identifiers with its restrictive and nonrestrictive rules.
Essential
Restrictive
Defining
Nonessential
Nonrestrictive
Nondefining
General Rule: Whether a comma(s) is required depends on if the clause is essential or nonessential. And either an essential or nonessential clause may interrupt a sentence.

Definition: The subject word used is nonspecific and the relative clause provides more information so we know which ones are being discussed. Definition: Uses a specific subject, which makes the relative clause nonessential and commas must be used to separate it from the primary sentence.

Not being essential to the meaning of the sentence, the clause can be removed from the sentence without changing its basic meaning. A good indicator that you need to use commas.

Rule: Use a comma if the essential clause is introductory. Don’t use a comma when the clause follows the main clause or interrupts it. Rule: Because the clause is nonessential, commas are required to connect them to the sentence.

Punctuation differs depending upon where the clause appears in the sentence:

  • Middle of the sentence: use commas to set it apart
  • End of a sentence: set it apart from the rest of the sentence with a comma and end the sentence with a period
The suspect in the lineup who has red hair committed the crime.

Suspect is in the the lineup AND has red hair.

The suspect in the lineup, who owns a red car committed the crime.

Suspect is in the lineup and owns a red car AND there may be other suspects in the lineup who have red cars.

The boat that sailed on October 25 is the one to which we referred in the contract. Mrs. Horscht, who used to be a model, is a very beautiful woman.
She gave a treat to the cats who were sitting at her feet. She gave a treat to Muffin and Petey, who were sitting at her feet.
The guys who race in the street seem especially noisy later in the evening. Hank and his friend Jamie, who race in the street, seem especially noisy later in the evening.
Interrupting:
After dripping mustard all over his chest, the man who was wearing a red shirt wished that he had chosen ketchup for his hotdog instead.
Interrupting:
After dripping mustard all over his chest, Charles, who was wearing a red shirt, wished that he had chosen ketchup for his hotdog instead.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the subject
  2. Blue indicates the relative clause

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