Advanced Relative Clauses

Much like adjectives, Relative Clauses are included in sentences in order to modify nouns (usually). Since they are clauses, they can communicate more than simple adjectives can. Knowing many of the various features of Relative Clauses is helpful for effectively communicating at a proficient level.

What to Expect

We recommend that you visit our Relative Clauses topic – where our video introduces 4 Steps to creating Relative Clauses – before continuing with this Advanced Relative Clauses topic.

We focus on two sub-topics here, the first in a video and the second in a slideshow:

  • Restrictive vs. Non-Restrictive.  Students likely will have encountered this distinction before, perhaps in simple adjectives, although they wouldn’t have recognized it as such.  Here, we explain the difference in usage between these two types, as well as the differences in form.
  • Linkers.  Students should already be familiar with the standard ‘wh’ linkers.  Here, we talk about substituting with ‘that’, including prepositions, and starting with quantifier determiners.  We also re-enforce that Relative Clause (not the main clause) determines the appropriate application of a linker.


For more features of advanced Relative Clauses, check out the Bonus Notes.


Learners should already be familiar with the following:

Relative Linkers serves as both pro-words (pronouns, pro-adverbs, and determiners) to represent ‘star’, and as conjunctions to link the Relative Clause to the main clause.

  • Relative pronouns: who/whom, which
  • Relative pro-adverbs: wherewhen
  • Relative determiner: whose

Relative Linkers are often affected by different parts of speech that are linked to them, and they are determined by which part of speech they serve as in the Relative Clause.

Clauses are sets of properly-ordered words which include or are connected to a subject and a verb phrase that are in agreement with one another.

A Main Clause forms the foundation of a sentence.  One or more Embedded Clauses can be inserted into the main clause to form a Complex Sentence.

Relative Clauses are one form of Embedded Clauses.

Students should know the basics of Relative Clauses, including how to form complex sentences that use them.  Watch the 4 Steps to Relative Clauses video before this one.

Proficiency Level

Students at the C1 level are likely expected to know some of these advanced features of Relative Clauses.  The might start learning them at the Upper Intermediate level (or 5th out of 6).

*actual starting level varies from one course-book series to the next

Part 1: Restrictiveness

Part 2: Linkers

Relevant to the Relative Clause
In case ⭐ takes different roles between the two clauses (say, a subject in one and an object in the other, or a noun in one and an adverb in another), the linker you chose should reflect ⭐'s role in the Relative Clause; it's role in the main clause is irrelevant for the purposes of selecting the linker.

For instance, in "This is the building where I used to work," 'the building' is a noun in the main clause, but 'in the building' is a prep phrase acting as an adverb in the Relative Clause. We go with the modifier role in the Relative Clause and use the linker 'where', not 'which'.
When a person or a named animal is a direct object, indirect object, or prepositional object in the Relative Clause, you can use 'whom' instead of 'who'. Some English speakers consider 'whom' to be outdated.

For restrictive Relative Clauses, you can omit the linker when it would act as an object (but not when it acts as the subject).
Preposition Placement
When ⭐ acts as an object of a preposition in the Relative Clause, there's the issue of what to do with the preposition when the linker takes the place of ⭐. If the linker is a 'wh' word, you can keep the preposition in front of that linker. However, in casual speech, it's more common to keep the preposition at the end of the clause, after the verb string, or wherever else would be natural if the Relative Clause was a standalone sentence. For 'that' and the [null] linker, placing the preposition later is required, as it's not an option to have it before those linkers.
Preposition Inclusion
When ⭐ acts as an object of a preposition in the Relative Clause, there's the issue of what to do with the preposition, but it's possible you can get rid of it altogether. If your linker is adverbial like 'where' or 'when', you might be able to simply remove static prepositions like 'in', 'at', 'on', by', etc.
'Which' + Preposition can replace Adverbial Linkers
You can use 'which' and a preposition like 'at', 'in', or 'to' to replace 'where' or 'when'.

"...the room where she hid the clue" = "...the room in which she hid the clue" = "...the room which she hid the clue in".
Generic 'Where'
You can sometimes use 'where' as a linker for very generic nouns like 'situation', 'circumstance', 'opportunity', 'instance', 'time', 'position', 'example', etc.
For example: "I can't imagine a situation where I would need this tool."
Quantifiers + 'of' + Linker
To specify a quantity of ⭐ in the Relative Clause you can use a quantifier determiner like 'some', 'all', 'a few', 'several', 'one', 'none', 'many' - or numerals - plus 'of' in front of the linker.

"... some of which ..."; "...many of whom ..."; etc.
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Bonus Notes

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Printouts & Slideshows

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Keep on Learning; Keep on Teaching

Restrictive Relative Clauses

The Relative Clauses video focuses on Non-Restrictive clauses. As students advance, check out how changes for Restrictive clauses.
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Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial Clauses can also Restrictive (essential) or Non-Restrictive (non-essential). They follow the same rule for punctuation, but apart from that, they're more straightforward than with Relative Clauses.
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