The Relative/Adjectival Clause: Types, Functions and Examples

The Relative/Adjectival Clause: Types, Functions and Examples

Welcome dear reader! I wish to share with you one of the sub-classifications of the subordinate clause: the relative clause. In the post on the English Clause, I did say that the understanding of the English clause structure is very crucial in gaining mastery of the English language. This includes getting a good grasp on the sub-classifications of the dependent clause. This post (The Relative/Adjectival Clause: Types, Functions and Examples) focuses on the adjectival clause and all the discussions around it. These include its two major types with illustrative examples. Let us check the clause out…

The Relative/Adjectival Clause: Types, Functions and Examples

The types of words that usually point to the presence of a relative clause or introduce it are the relative pronouns which we can also call ‘relativizers’. This Clause does the work of adjectives and by this, it attracts the name, adjectival clause. Adjectives are words that describe or give more information about nouns or pronouns in a sentence. We can divide the relative clause into two categories.

Types of Relative or Adjectival Clause

The two types are:

The Restrictive Relative Clause

Another description of this clause is:

The Defining Clause or the Qualifying Clause

The Non-Restrictive Relative Clause

We can also call this clause these two nomenclatures:

The Non-Defining or the Non-Qualifying

Let us look at these two types of relative clause closely…

The Defining/Qualifying/Restrictive Relative Clause

We call this an adjectival clause because it is a relative clause, introduced by a relative pronoun that qualifies the noun in a sentence. The noun it qualifies is an antecedent (an expression to which a pronoun refers or, more appropriately, makes co-reference) and it normally precedes the pronoun in the text. The relative clause follows the antecedent and it answers the question ‘which’. This clause helps to define the antecedent such that the referent of the antecedent becomes clear; hence, the name ‘defining clause. We introduce this clause by the general pronoun ‘that’, and relative pronouns such as who, whom, whose, where and which. However, it may occur without a pronoun. It is important to note that punctuation marks do not separate the restrictive relative clause from the rest of the sentence in which it occurs. Let us see some examples:

  • The man standing over there is my brother.
  • The tree that blocked the road is too heavy.
  • Bugatti which many superstars want to ride is very expensive.
  • The boy that stayed behind is my cousin.
  • The lecturer who gave you the book is my benefactor.
  • Marilyn whom I spoke about is here.
  • The deal I told you about was successful.
  • The government had compensated the people whose houses were demolished.
  • Fred whose only daughter graduated from Yale has been elected president.
  • The College which is the oldest in the city has been upgraded to a university.

Each of the underlined clauses answers the question, ‘which’.

Functions of Restrictive Relative Clause

Each of the restrictive relative clauses qualifies the antecedent noun phrases or nouns in the sentences in which they occur.

The Non-Defining/Non-Qualifying/Non-Restrictive Relative Clause

This clause is not an adjectival clause because it neither qualifies nor modifies a noun; rather, it gives more information about the noun in the sentence; that is, the antecedent whose referent we know already. Because it does not define the antecedent, we call it ‘non-defining’ relative clause. The orthographic comma usually marks it off. It also answers the question ‘which’. Let us take some examples:

  • The man (who is standing over there) is my brother.

The clause in parenthesis is a coordinate clause on its own and it is not part of the headword. It is not a qualifier to the modifier-headword (the man) neither does not qualify the noun; rather, it gives more information about it. More examples…

  • Three items, that made the list, have been deleted.
  • The driver, who works tirelessly, is here again.
  • Ten students, whose marks were too low, were denied admission.
  • Jane, who invited them to the institution, is a professor.
  • Adams, who(m) I called on the phone last week, is here in person.
  • The food, that the boys refused, was given to the destitute.
  • The match, which millions of people watched, was very interesting.
  • Cheetah, which has a spotted skin, is the fastest land animal.
  • The woman, who sponsored her to the university, received an award from the government for her contributions to education.
  • The cap, which was part of the bridal luggage, has been found.
  • Monetary reward, which was not part of the game, has been introduced.


This post has examined relative clause, which is one of the functional classifications of Beta or subordinate clause. We also refer to the clause as an adjectival clause. Some people refer to it adjective clause. A relative pronoun usually introduces it and it has two types: the restrictive, defining or qualifying relative clause and the non-restrictive, non-defining or non-qualifying relative clause. Both perform a different function as the post explains.

Other Related Posts

There are other posts on this platform that are related to the topic at hand. Take a look at them and they will give you more insight into the nature of the English Clause. They include the following:

The Nominal Clause

The Adverbial Clause

Clause in English

Nominal Group

Verbal Group

Adverbial Group

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