with a little information about appositive clauses
clauses are subordinate clauses that attach to nouns. Because
they add information to a noun, some grammarians and ESL/EFL teachers
call them adjective clauses.
Relative Clause Structure
To make a relative clause, we take a sentence, turn it into a subordinate clause, and attach that clause to a noun. For this process to occur, the two sentences must share the same noun. Look at the following two sentences. What noun is shared by both sentences?
#A1. I read a book.To use the second sentence as a relative clause, it has to be changed by adding the appropriate relative pronoun--who, whom, that, which, or whose--selected on the basis of a combination of meaning and syntax. For example, whom is used to refer to people (or animals closely associated with people) and it must be the object of a verb or preposition.
The relative pronoun serves two functions--it is a subordinating conjunction and it is a part of the syntax of the clause. In this example, the relative pronoun that is added. It is a connecting word--but it is also the subject of sentence #2 and of the new relative clause:
Relative clause: that explains the differences between clauses and phrasesIn the following example, the internal structure of the relative clause is more complicated because the noun that is the focus of the clause is not the subject of the clause. The relative pronoun is a connecting word and it is also the direct object
#B1. I read a book.
Like wh-questions, relative clauses come in two major types: (1) those that have the relative pronoun as the subject of the clause and (2) those that have the relative pronoun as something other than the subject of the clause (object or complement or object of a preposition).
In addition, relative clauses can be added to nouns in just about any part of a sentence--at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of sentences. Let's analyze the location and type of relative clause in each of the following sentences:
#1. I bought a book that was highly recommended by my sister.
Restrictive vs. Non-restrictive Relative Pronouns
Relative clauses are also classified depending on their relationship with the noun they modify. A restrictive relative pronoun identifies its noun--and divides the world into categories. Look at our book example: The book that my sister recommended was quite useful. The relative clause points to a particular book--and also means that there are books that my sister did not recommend.
A non-restrictive relative clause is used to give additional information about the noun but not to identify it or to create categories. Look at this example:
The relative clause--which was published in 2002--gives additional information about the book but it doesn't say that there are two Student Grammars--one published in 2002 and another at some other date.
Let's try this definition again by analyzing these two sentences. How many groups of students is each sentence talking about?
1. The students who turned their papers in early went to a party.What do you think? #1--there are two groups of students. Those who turned in their papers early and those who didn't. So, the relative clause in #1 is a restrictive relative clause.
#2--that's about all of the students. It's non-restrictive. Notice that the old definition about non-restrictives adding unimportant information is not true. It's even silly. Why would you provide un-important information?! A non-restrictive provides information that the writer wants you to have but it is attached to a noun that is already identified and doesn't need anything else to make you know which one you are talking about.
Probably for teaching purposes, the clearest examples of non-restrictive relative clauses are those that go with proper nouns:
Douglas Biber, who is a well-known corpus linguist, teaches at the University of Northern Arizona.Better examples for use in our ESL/EFL classes would be something from a textbook they are using like this example I found in my sociology source:
A classic example of an early woman sociologist is Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), who was born into a wealthy English family.This non-restrictive relative clause gives important information that adds to our understanding of Harriet Martineau but is not needed to define who she was.
Relative Pronoun Reduction
Relative pronouns can sometimes be left out; they are understood but not given in the sentence as in the following examples:
I bought a book my sister recommended.If the relative pronoun is the subject of its clause, then it must be kept. Otherwise, the relative pronoun can generally be dropped. In which of these sentences, can the relative pronoun be left out? Where is it required?
Relative Clauses & Prepositions
Relative clause structure gets more complicated when a prepositional phrase is involved. The basic problem is deciding what to do with the preposition--where does it go when the clause is put into the sentence. Here's an example:
#1: At TESOL, I bought a book.
#2: I got new ideas about teaching from the book.
Relative clause creation step #1--insert the pronoun as the object of the preposition: I got new ideas about teaching from thatAs our students struggle with making this type of combination, you'll find students leaving the preposition out altogether:
*At TESOL, I bought a book that I got new ideas about teaching grammar.
look a great deal like relative clauses. Analyze the following examples:
what kind of word is the clause attached to? what is the original
sentence that the clause was created from?
#1: appositive clause: I like the idea that students can become independent learners.Based on that analysis, how are these two subordinate clause types different?1. The clause is attached to a noun--the idea.#2: relative clause: Students who become independent learners can continue to learn after they leave our classes.
A relative clause includes in its internal structure the same noun that it attaches to. The relative pronoun means the same thing as the noun that the clause is attached to; the relative pronoun has a grammatical role that combines being a connector with a role in the syntax of its clause.
I believe that students can become independent learners.Grammarians and linguists refer to this process of changing a verb to a noun as nominalization. Notice how the nominalized version has the same grammatical feature as the verb version--the noun clause of the verb version becomes the appositive clause of the noun version.
When analyzing authentic samples, just be careful not to jump to the conclusion that every noun + that combination is a relative clause. Nouns like idea, belief, thought, knowledge, and a few others are often followed by appositive clauses.
Test your knowledge by deciding which of these sentences has an appositive clause and which has a relative clause.
The idea that I shared with my students comes from many years of teaching experience.Click here for my analysis.
At the beginning
of this lecture, I listed some examples from the sociology textbook that
I'm using for examples. Here's that list again. Try analyzing
these: what's the core sentence? What sentence was changed to make
the relative clause? What's the grammatical function of the relative
pronoun in its clause? Where in the sentence does the relative clause
After you have completed your analysis, click here to see mine.
Please let me know your questions and/or comments. Thanks.
Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Edinburgh Gate, Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited.
Celce-Murcia, M. & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher's course. (2nd ed.) Boston: Heinle & Heinle.