Adjective Clause

A. Definition

An adjective clause, also known as an adjectival or relative clause, is a dependent clause that functions as an adjective in a sentence. It modifies a noun or a noun phrase. It means that it describes, identifies, or gives further information about a noun or a noun phrase. As a noun is a subject or an object, adjective clause then will always modify a subject or an object. And adjective clause comes after the word it modifies.

We can say that an adjective clause has three requirements:

  • It has a subject and verb.
  • It begins with a relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, which, that) or a relative adverb (why, when, where).
  • It functions as an adjective which answers the questions like What kind? How many? or Which one?.

B. Kind of Adjective Clause

There are two kinds of adjective clause; they are defining adjective clause and non-defining adjective clause.

1. Defining Adjective Clause

A defining adjective clause, also known as restrictive adjective clause, gives essential information about the noun it modifies. It is needed to complete the sentence’s thought. Therefore if a defining adjective clause is omitted from a sentence, the meaning of the main clause changes. A defining adjective clause is not separated from the main clause by commas. And most adjective clauses are defining.

Examples:

a. The food that you order is not ready yet.
b. The girl who wears a white skirt is the cheerleader.
c. The house of which color is yellow is our English teacher’s house.

The adjective clauses (the underlined) are all essential because they restrict which food/ girl/ house.


2. Non-defining Adjective Clause

A non-defining adjective clause, also known as non-restrictive adjective clause, simply gives extra information about the noun it modifies. It is not essential to identify that noun. We have known the noun it modifies. Then if the non-defining adjective clause is omitted from the sentence, the meaning of the main clause does not change. Or an opinion said that some non-defining adjective clauses are like gossip, they provide additional information about someone or something whose identity has been known already. A non-defining adjective clause is separated from the main clause by commas.

Examples:

a. Her ugly cloth, which is very old, will soon be used as a dust cloth.
b. Spinach, of which color is green, is a source of iron.
c. Dony, my classmate, who is very talkative, is a boring person.

The adjective clauses which is very old, of which color is green and who is very talkative, are nonrestrictive or nonessential. They don’t identify which cloth/ spinach/ classmate; they just provide a kind of editorial comment. We don’t need this information in order to understand the sentences.

C. How to Arrange An Adjective Clause?

Actually a sentence with an adjective clause in it is the result of combining two clauses that contain a repeated noun. Combine two independent clauses to make one sentence with an adjective clause by doing the following steps:

1. There are two clauses with repeated noun (noun or pronoun which refers to the same thing).

Example:

a. The handsome actor is waving toward his fans.
b. He is under strong guard.

The handsome actor and he refer to the same person.

2. Remove the repeated noun and replace it with a relative pronoun in the clause we want to make dependent. In this case the clause that we choose is clause (b). Then remove the pronoun “he” from sentence (b) and substitute it with the suitable relative pronoun. Choose “who” because “he” functions as subject in sentence (b) and “he” refers to human. For more information about relative pronoun and its usage, just see point C of this article. Then the result of the sentence (b) changing is “who is under strong guard”.

3. Put the adjective clause (who is under strong guard) directly after the noun phrase it modifies (the repeated noun). In this case the noun phrase that we want to modify is “the handsome actor” in sentence (a), so you must put “who is under strong guard” directly after “the handsome actor”. The result is then “The handsome actor who is under strong guard…” Remember that you still have the rest of sentence (a) “is waving toward his fans”. Put it after the adjective clause. The result is then a complete sentence with an adjective clause “The handsome actor who is under strong guard is waving toward his fans.”

D. Relative Pronoun

An adjective clause commonly begins with a relative pronoun (who, whom, that, which, whose, of which) or a relative adverb (when, where).

Note: Sentences (a) and (b) in the following discussion are two sentences with repeated noun as explained in point B above. Then sentence (c) is the combination of the two sentences (a sentence with an adjective clause).

1. WHO

“Who” substitutes noun or pronoun for human in subject position.

Examples:
a. Andy is the best player.
b. He started to join this club two years ago.
c. Andy who started to join this club two years ago is the best player.

“Who” in sentence (c) replaces “he” which functions as the subject in sentence (b) and refers to Andy (human) in sentence (a).

2. WHOM

“Whom” substitutes noun or pronoun for human in object position (object of a verb or a preposition).

Examples:

a. The man is a famous novel writer.
b. I will meet him tomorrow.
c. The man whom I will meet tomorrow is a famous novel writer.

“Whom” in sentence (c) substitutes “him”, the object of sentence (b) which refers to “the man” (human) in sentence (a).

3. THAT

“That” substitutes noun or pronoun for human, animal and thing in subject or object position (object of a verb or a preposition).

Examples:

a. The chef is cooking some special food.
b. He works for a big hotel in this city.
c. The chef who works for a big hotel in this city is cooking some special food.

“Who” in sentence (c) substitutes “he” which functions as a subject in sentence (b) and refers to “the chef” (human) in sentence (a).

a. My sister is showing me a new cellphone.
b. It was bought yesterday.
c. My sister is showing me a new cellphone that was bought yesterday.

“That” in sentence (c) substitutes “it” which functions as the subject of sentence (b) and refers to “a new cellphone” (thing) in sentence (a).

a. My friend is wearing a yellow jacket.
b. I love her very much.
c. My friend that I love very much is wearing a yellow jacket.

“That” in sentence (c) substitutes “her” which functions as the object in sentence (b) and refers to “my friend” (human) in sentence (a).

a. The flower looks very beautiful in the afternoon.
b. Many people like it.
c. The flower that many people like looks very beautiful in the afternoon.

“That” in sentence (c) substitutes “it” which functions as the object in sentence (b) and refers to “the flower” (thing) in sentence (a).

4. WHICH

“Which” substitutes noun or pronoun for animal and thing in subject or object position (object of a verb or a preposition).

Examples:

a. I am happy to have the book.
b. It was written by my favorite writer.
c. I am happy to have the book which was written by my favorite writer.

“Which” in sentence (c) substitutes “it” which functions as the subject in sentence (b) and refers to “the book” (thing) in sentence (a).

a. The cat is running happily here and there.
b. I got it from my friend last month.
c. The cat which I got from my friend last month is running happily here and there.

“Which” in sentence (c) substitutes “it” which functions as the object in sentence (b) and refers to “the cat” (animal) in sentence (a).

5. WHOSE

“Whose” substitutes possessive form of a noun or a pronoun which can refer to human, animal or thing and can be part of a subject or an object of a verb or a preposition; yet it cannot be a complete subject or object.

Examples:

a. We admire the scientist.
b. His works are very useful for human’s life.
c. We admire the scientist whose works are very useful for human’s life.

“Whose” in sentence (c) substitutes “his” which functions as the possessive form in sentence (b) and refers to “the scientist” (human) in sentence (a). In sentence (b), “his” is the part of the subject.

a. I love a butterfly.
b. Its color is yellow.
c. I love a butterfly whose color is yellow.

“Whose” in sentence (c) substitutes “its” which functions as the possessive form in sentence (b) and refers to “a butterfly” (animal) in sentence (a). In sentence (b), “its” is the part of the subject.

a. The ice cream is pink.
b. My nephew loves its taste.
c. The ice cream whose my nephew loves its taste is pink.

“Whose” in sentence (c) substitutes “its” which functions as the possessive form in sentence (b) and refers to “the ice cream” (thing) in sentence (a). In sentence (b), “its” is the part of the object.

6. OF WHICH

“Of Which” substitutes possessive form of a noun or a pronoun which refers to animal or thing. It can be part of a subject or an object of a verb or a preposition, yet it cannot be a complete subject or object.

Examples:

a. The bird landed on the ground this morning.
b. Its wings are white.
c. The bird of which wings are white landed on the ground this morning.

“Of Which” in sentence (c) substitutes “its” which functions as the possessive form in sentence (b) and refers to “the bird” (animal) in sentence (a). In sentence (b), “its” is the part of the subject.

a. We are watching a kungfu film.
b. We like its story.
c. We are watching a kungfu film of which story we like.

“Of Which” in sentence (c) substitutes “its” which functions as the possessive form in sentence (b) and refers to “a kungfu film” (thing) in sentence (a). In sentence (b), “its” is the part of the object.

7. WHEN

“When” substitutes a time expression.

Examples:

a. I remember the day.
b. You asked me to marry you on that day.
c. I remember the day when you asked me to marry you.

“When” in sentence (c) substitutes “on that day” which functions as the adverb of time in sentence (b) and refers to “the day” (time) in sentence (a).

a. She will not keep in her mind the year.
b. She lived in that old house alone that year.
c. She will not keep in her mind the year when she lived in that old house alone.

“When” ” in sentence (c) substitutes “that year” which functions as the adverb of time in sentence (b) and refers to “the year” (time) in sentence (a).

8. WHERE

“Where” substitutes a place. Prepositions at, in, to are usually added.

Examples:

a. The school is very beautiful.
b. We study at that school.
c. The school where we study is very beautiful.

“Where” ” in sentence (c) substitutes “at that school” which functions as the adverb of place in sentence (b) and refers to “the school” (place) in sentence (a).

E. Preposition in Adjective Clause

Occasionally a preposition is used with the verb in an adjective clause. Then you have two choices to deal with this case.

In spoken English, the preposition is usually put in the end of the clause. Yet in formal written English, the preposition is typically moved to the beginning of the clause.

Examples:

a. Informal: She is the secretary whom I gave the document to.
Formal: She is the secretary to whom I gave the document.

b. Informal: Those are the books which he took some information about the ancient life from.
Formal: Those are the books from which he took some information about the ancient life.

c. Informal: Jean, whose table I put my bag on, is my best friend.
Formal: Jean, on whose table I put my bag, is my best friend.

Note: You cannot use “that” with a preposition in this case; use only “whom, which, and whose”.

For the Reduced Adjective Clause you can click here!

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