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RELATIVE (ADJECTIVE) CLAUSES
An adjective clause is a subordinate, or
dependent, clause. A subordinate clause, like the independent clause,
contains both a subject and a verb; however, a subordinate clause by
itself does not express a complete thought. Consequently, the subordinate
clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence, i.e., it is not an
independent clause. The entire subordinate adjective clause functions
within a sentence just like a single-word adjective. Like a single-word
adjective, an adjective clause modifies a noun or a
RELATIVE PRONOUNS INTRODUCE ADJECTIVE
An adjective clause is frequently introduced by a
relative pronoun. A clause introduced by a relative pronoun is always a
subordinate adjective clause. In fact, you can be certain that any clause
introduced by a relative pronoun is a subordinate clause. In the following
examples, adjective clauses appear in accentuated text; the noun or
pronoun modified is underlined.
Prisoners who refuse to obey will be shot.
(In this example, the subordinate adjective clause is introduced by
the relative pronoun who. Additionally, the clause answers the
question which ones? regarding the noun
You should buy a wristwatch
that keeps better time.
(Introduced by a relative pronoun, the clause is surely a
subordinate adjective clause. Additionally, the adjective clause answers
what kind of? regarding the noun it modifies, which is
Jenna had two childhood
friends, both of whom died of
(The adjective clause answers the
question how many? regarding the noun friends. Note:
adjective clauses answering how many? are frequently set off with
commas because the material contained within the clause is very often
We moved to my old neighborhood,
where I grew up.
adjective clause answers which one? regarding the noun
neighborhood. Note that where is a relative adverb
introducing the adjective clause. See below for more regarding relative
The relative pronoun introducing a subordinate
adjective clause may be omitted from the clause when the relative pronoun
does not function as the subject of the clause. In these constructions of
omission, the pronoun is understood to be in the clause though it
is not physically present. However, when the relative pronoun functions as
the subject of the subordinate adjective clause, it may not be omitted
from the clause. Its presence is necessary to serve as subject of the
Whether to introduce a subordinate adjective clause using a
relative pronoun has other considerations, too. Examples of elliptical relative pronouns
follow, with pronouns in brackets to indicate their
The things [that] we know
best are the things [that] we were not
(The example contains two subordinate
adjective clauses. The subjects of both clauses are the pronouns
we. Since both clauses have the pronoun we as subject, the
relative pronouns that may be omitted from the clauses, i.e., the
relative pronouns are not required to function as subject of the
Now is the time [that] Frank must go.
Frank is the subject of the clause; therefore, the relative pronoun
that may be omitted from the clause.)
locker that was beside my desk has been
(The relative pronoun cannot be omitted from
the clause. Its presence is necessary to function as the subject of the
subordinate adjective clause.)
This is the place
[where] I was born.
pronoun I is the subject of the clause; therefore, the relative
adverb where may be omitted.)
runner who came in last please step
(Because it functions as the subject of the
clause, the pronoun, who, cannot be
ADJECTIVE CLAUSE (Follows the Noun or
A subordinate adjective clause always directly
follows the noun or pronoun it modifies. (Note the position of single-word
adjectives vs that of adjective clauses.)
puzzle that we couldn't solve . . .
Ships that carry men's dreams across the oceans . . . (What kind of?)
Our grandchildren, seven in all . . . (How
relative adverb introduces a subordinate adjective clause. Occasionally a
subordinate adjective clause is introduced by a relative adverb: where,
when, or why. The word relative within the context of grammar describes a
word that refers or relates to another word or phrase within a sentence.
This word or phrase of reference is called the antecedent. A relative
adverb introduces a subordinate adjective clause which modifies an
antecedent noun or pronoun located in the main sentence clause. Although
the entire clause introduced by a relative adverb is adjectival, and
functions to modify a noun or pronoun in the main sentence clause, the
relative adverb itself modifies a verb within its own
Choosing which relative adverb to introduce a subordinate
adjective clause is determined by the noun or pronoun
|To modify a noun of place (space):
|To modify a noun of time (duration):
|To modify a noun of reason (cause and/or
office is the place where you waste most of
(The relative adverb where
modifies the verb waste, making it adverbial; but the entire clause
where you waste most of your life modifies the noun
These are the times when Joan lost her initiative.
(The relative adverb when modifies the verb lost,
making it adverbial; but the entire clause when Joan lost her
initiative modifies the noun times.)
the reason why Mark refused to
(The relative adverb why modifies
the verb refused, making it adverbial; but the entire clause why
Mark refused to come modifies the noun
I wondered why she refused the invitation.
(In this example, the adjective clause, introduced by the relative
adverb why, does not have an antecedent noun or pronoun. These kind
of constructions are not
Sometimes a relative adverb is omitted from the
relative clause. In these constructions of omission, the relative adverb
is understood to be in the clause though it is not physically
present. Omitting the relative adverb often creates a stronger, more
direct, statement; for this reason, many writers prefer
The office is the place
where you waste most of your
These are the times
when Joan lost her initiative.
know the reason
why Susan left so
DETERMINE THE SUBJECT & OBJECT OF A
the subject of a clause, ask what? or who? and insert the
verb. Don't get confused if the answer is an echo. In the following
examples, adjective clauses appear in accentuated text.
often forgive the people who bore
(What or who bore? The answer is
who. The pronoun who is the subject of the adjective
The boxes they packed last
Monday have mysteriously vanished!
(What or who
packed? They packed. The pronoun they is the subject of the
determine the object of a clause, read the subject and verb and then ask
what? or whom? Be prepared for a possible
We seldom forgive those whom we
(We bore what or whom? The answer is
whom. The pronoun whom is the object of the verb bore
in the adjective clause.)
I cannot think of a defense
that will vindicate her.
(That will vindicate what or whom? Her is the answer. The
pronoun her is the object of the verb phrase will
Devan fell off the roof of the barn
father and I had built last
(Be aware that what and
whom are not foolproof tests for a direct object. In this example,
the verb in the adjective clause does not contain an object. The phrase
last summer is an adverb phrase. Adverbs will never function as an
grammatical parts of an adjective clause are often arranged in the same
order as they are in sentences: Subject / Verb / Object or
We often forgive the people who
However, the object or complement may
sometimes appear before the subject and verb: Object or Complement /
Subject / Verb.
We rarely forgive those whom we
phrase consists of a minimum of two words. The prepositional phrase, the
participle phrase, and the infinitive phrase frequently function as
adjectives. A phrase, like the subordinate clause, is a subordinate group
of words that functions together as a single part of speech. Phrases,
however, do not contain both a subject and a verb, whereas clauses do.
Like the subordinate clause, phrases cannot stand
Prepositional Phrase as Adjective
prepositional phrase that modifies a noun or a pronoun is an adjective
The rooms of the
Some of the
The books on the
Participle Phrase as
A participle is a verbal
that functions as an adjective. A participle modifies a noun or a pronoun.
A participle phrase consists of a participle followed by any complements
Buffeted by the
storm, the ship drifted off course.
dog, chained to the tree, appears
We could see the squirrel sitting three branches
Infinitive Phrase as
An infinitive is a verbal
that can function as an adjective (among other parts of speech). When an
infinitive functions as an adjective, it modifies a noun or a pronoun. The
infinitive phrase is composed of the infinitive followed by any
complements and/or modifiers.
The candidate to elect is Will Peterson.
Travis should be
the one to go shopping.
I have a
decision to make before
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