Relative Clauses: Defining and Non-defining

Many students find the topic of relative clauses confusing and complicated. In that regard, let’s try to clarify and understand this topic a little better. There are two types of relative clauses: defining and non-defining.

We normally use relative clauses to link two ideas. 

  • I met our new neighbour. She lives on the first floor. – I met our new neighbour who lives on the first floor.
  • My sister is moving to Scotland. She’s younger than me. – My sister, who is younger than me, is moving to Scotland.

The first sentence is a defining relative clause and it tells us which noun we are talking about (a new neighbour) while the second sentence is non-defining and it gives us extra information about his sister  (who is younger than me).

Relative clauses: defining and non-defining

To connect these ideas, we use relative pronouns who, which, that, whose, where, when.

Find out more about relative pronouns on this link.

Relative clauses are subordinate, which means that they depend on the main clause. They quite often come after the noun they define.

  • Thomas turned on the computer which he bought the previous day.
  • Here are the people who want to buy our car.
  • My husband, who is a teacher, teaches French.
Relative Clauses: Defining and Non-defining

Defining relative clauses

We use defining relative clauses to give essential information about the noun. The noun can be a subject or an object of a sentence.

For example:

  • The man who is our host is Irish. (it gives us information about the subject – a man)
  • Why don’t you ask the boy who’s sitting next to you? (it gives us information about the object – the boy)

Relative clauses: defining and non-defining

Here are example sentences

  • The boy who bullied other children was punished.
  • We bought a TV which was quite inexpensive.
  • This is the man whose dog is a champion.
  • There is a man at the door who wants to see you.

We can leave out the relative pronouns who, which and that when it refers to the object of the relative clause; but remember that we can not omit it when it refers to the subject.

  • I need the clothes (which/that) I feel comfortable in.
  • I found the book (which/that) you were looking for.

Relative clauses: defining and non-defining

Note: If we take out defining relative clause, the sentence would make no sense.

  • Sara’s parents have finally met the man (who went to college with her.)

Non-defining relative clauses

Non-defining relative clauses give us extra information about a subject or an object of the main clause. 

  • Rob and Simona are cousins. They go to the same class. – Rob and Simona, who are cousins, go to the same class.
  • My mother is from Wales. She likes cooking. – My mother, who comes from Wales, likes cooking.

The relative clause who comes from Wales gives us extra information. The sentence My mother loves cooking can stand without the relative clause..

Relative clauses: defining and non-defining

More example sentences:

  • Tom, who was very hungry, couldn’t wait any longer for his break.
  • I couldn’t find the number I needed in that directory which I was phoning from.
  • My boss, who noticed that I looked tired, gave me a day off.
  • We saw a few cars, which we liked a lot, at the car fair.
  • Romeo and Juliet, whose parents hated each other, were lovers.

Remember to always use a relative pronoun with non-defining relative clauses (it can’t be omitted) as well as to separate them with commas from the rest of the sentence.

Relative clauses: defining and non-defining


Join the sentences to make a relative sentence:

  1. They gave away the cat. It was afraid of mice.
  2. That’s the man. I was telling you about him.
  3. Paul caught the 10 o’clock train. It doesn’t get in till 11.30.
  4. The doctor thought Rita looked tired. He gave her the day off.
  5. Simon had only half an hour for lunch. He couldn’t wait any longer.
  6. Sean is looking after some children. They are very spoilt.
  7. An old man brought in a small girl. Her hand was bleeding.
  8. Dean was waiting for a girl. She didn’t turn up.
  9. The company is sending me to London. I work for this company.
  10. The boy was an actor. I was sharing an apartment with this boy.
  11. The restaurant was noisy. We were having lunch in that restaurant.

Download the lesson and key to the exercise

Defining and Non-defining Relative Clauses
Defining and Non-defining Relative Clauses

Let me take your English to the next level. If you feel that you are not making much progress with your English or as quickly as your academic or professional requirements demand, how about trying my reasonably-priced one-to-one English lessons that I can tailor to whatever needs you may have like sitting forthcoming English certification exams, or taking part in business meetings with your international colleagues, or passing your job interview in English. Book an online English lesson with me or one of my fellow certified and experienced English teachers, and see for yourself. You won’t feel let down because we are going to make sure that you have a good run for the money you are investing in your linguistic education. Waste no time and take a trial test for only 1 euro.

My Lingua Academy

My Lingua Academy is an online school of English language. We give one-on-one lessons to students of English of all ages and all levels of knowledge all around the world. With us you can prepare for written assignments and exams, attend a general or business English course, or have conversation classes with qualified English teachers who have years of experience.

1 Comment

Tanvir Soob · 5 Nov 2022 at 3:35 pm

Great, I learned lots of things from your written material.

Leave a Reply