English Grammar: Adjective Clauses – Subject & Object Relative Pronouns

English Level: Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate

Language Focus: An introduction to relative clauses/adjective clauses that use subject and object relative pronouns.

Worksheet Downloadadjective-clause-worksheet-esl.docx (scroll down to study the exercises online)

Jump to: Subject Relative Pronouns, Object Relative Pronouns, Final Exercises


Note: An adjective clause and relative clause are the same. We will use the word adjective clause.

This is the first lesson on adjective clauses. There are three lessons.

  1. Lesson 1: Making adjective clauses with subject and object relative pronouns
  2. Lesson 2: Using the relative pronouns where, when, and which.
  3. Lesson 3: Punctuating adjective clauses

Introduction: Adjective Clauses (Relative Clauses)

Why is it called an adjective clause? Because adjective clauses modify (describe) nouns, just like adjectives. For example:

  • The tall man smiled. = tall is an adjective, modifying the noun man.
  • The man who had long hair smiled. = ‘who had long hair‘ is an adjective clause that modifies the noun man.

Why Use Adjective Clauses?

When you use adjective clauses, you are able to combine two sentences into one. A sentence with an adjective clause is called a complex sentence. Good writers use a mix of simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences.

Here are two simple sentences.

  • I study at a college. The college is downtown.

To make an adjective clause, we need to find two ideas in these sentences that refer to the same thing. What is the same in these two sentences? The word ‘college‘ is in both! So, instead of saying the word twice, we can replace one word with a relative pronoun and make an adjective clause.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Find the two words that are refer to the same thing.

  • I study at a college. The college is downtown.

Step 2: Replace the second word with a correct relative pronoun (that/which/who/when/where…)

  • I study at a college. The college WHICH is downtown.

Step 3: Move the whole {adjective clause} behind the noun it modifies.

  • I study at a college {which is downtown}.

That’s it! Now you have a complex sentence. The adjective clause is ‘which is downtown.’

Before we go further, let’s look at a table of the relative pronouns.

Relative Pronouns for Adjective Clauses

who

 

subject and object pronoun for people only. (*whom can be used as an object relative pronoun.)

E.g. The man who(m) I saw was old.

thatsubject and object pronoun for people and things.

E.g. The book that I saw was red.

whichsubject and object pronoun for things only.

E.g. The book, which I saw, was red.

whoseused for possessions.

E.g. The man whose house was for sale was old.

whereused for places.

E.g. The restaurant where we met was downtown.

whenused for times.

E.g. The day when we met was cloudy.

The first part of this lesson will focus on subject relative pronouns. These are: that/which/who.

What’s a Subject Relative Pronoun?

Look at these two simple sentences.

The woman is in my class.  She likes tennis.

Step1: What do we have twice? ‘The woman’ and ‘she’ are talking about the same person, so we can combine the sentences using an adjective clause. In the second sentence, ‘She’ is the subject of the sentence, so we will use one of the subject relative pronouns (that/which/who) to replace it. (We cannot use whose/where/when/whom to replace subjects.)

So, let’s follow our steps.

Step 1: Find the two words that refer to the the same thing/person.

  • The woman is in my class.  She likes tennis.

Step 2: Replace the second word with a relative pronoun (we’ll use a subject relative pronoun – that/which/who)

  • The woman is in my class.  SheWHO/THAT likes tennis.

Step 3: Move the whole {adjective clause} behind the noun it modifies. These two sentences are both correct:

  • The woman {who likes tennis} is in my class.  
  • The woman {that likes tennis} is in my class.

We’re done!

Let’s practice. I will give you some sentences and you can follow the three steps to create an adjective clause. Remember to move the adjective clause behind the noun it modifies!

Exercise #1 – Creating Adjective Clauses with Subject Relative Pronouns

Change the second sentence into an adjective clause.

1. Do you see the cat? It is on the roof.

Show Answer

2. The man is a dentist. He lives next to me.

Show Answer

3. I see an open table over there. It’s by the window.
Show Answer

4. She invited a guy to the party. The guy dances really well.
Show Answers

5. The desk is made of oak. It was built by my friend.
Show Answers

6. People shouldn’t throw stones. They live in glass houses.
Show Answers

Adjective Clauses with Object Relative Pronouns

Now it’s time for the second part of the lesson. Let’s look at two more sentences.

The woman is in my class. I like her.

Step 1: What is the same in both sentences? ‘The woman’ and ‘her’. They both refer to the same thing (the woman).

The woman is in my class. I like her.

If we look at the second word, ‘her’, we can see that it is not the subject of the sentence. It is the object! (I like her <- her is the object of the verb like). For objects, we have to use an object relative pronoun, which are the following:

  • who/whom: for people (whom is a little old-fashioned, but it’s correct)
  • that: for people and things
  • (nothing): for people and things
  • which: for things

Nothing? Yes. We do not need a relative pronoun if we are replacing the object of a verb.

Let’s me show you by continuing with our example.

Step 2: Replace the second word with a relative pronoun (who/whom/that/(nothing)/which)

The woman is in my class. I like her who(m)/that/(nothing).

Because we are making an adjective clause with the object of a sentence, we have to add one more step.

*Step 3*: Move the object relative pronoun to the beginning of the second sentence/clause.

The woman is in my class. who(m)/that/(nothing) I like her .

Step 4: Move the whole {adjective clause} behind the noun it modifies.

  • The woman {whom I like} is in my class. 
  • The woman {who I like} is in my class. 
  • The woman {that I like} is in my class. 
  • The woman {I like} is in my class. 

They are all correct!


Let’s combine another sentence but let’s do it with a thing.

Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes at the mall. I want to buy them soon.

Step 1: Look for two words that refer to the same thing.

Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes at the mall. I want to buy them soon.

Step 2: Replace the second word with a relative pronoun

Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes at the mall. I want to buy them which/that/(nothing) soon.

Step 3: Move the relative pronoun to the beginning of the second sentence/clause.

Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes at the mall. which/that/(nothing) I want to buy them soon.

Step 4: Move the whole {adjective clause} behind the noun it modifies. Now the final sentence looks like this:

  • Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes {which I want to buy soon} at the mall.
  • Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes {that I want to buy soon} at the mall.
  • Yesterday, I saw some nice shoes {I want to buy soon} at the mall.

That’s it.

Shoes on the line in ESL land

These shoes are old. Someone has thrown them on the line. = These shoes {that someone has thrown on the line} are old.

Now it’s time for you to practice.

Exercise #2 – Making Adjective Clauses with Objects

1. I invited the professor. You met him last year.

Show Answers

2. The printer is broken. We were using it yesterday.

Show Answers

3. I don’t want to hear the song. We just heard it.

Show Answers

4. That’s the man! I had a big argument with him yesterday.

Show Answers

5. He has a list of customers in his address book. He calls them once a month.

Show Answers

6. He’s always talking about his car. He bought it last year in London.

Show Answers

Exercise #3 – Add the Correct Relative Pronoun

In the next exercise, some of the adjective clauses use a subject relative pronoun and some use an object relative pronoun. Decide which to use.

For example:

I gave a dollar to the man ___ was on the corner.

If we look at ” ___ was on the corner”, we can see that it is missing a subject, so we need a subject relative pronoun (who/that).

I gave a dollar to the man ___ I see every day.

If we look at “___ I see everyday”, we can see that there is already a subject (“I”). Also, the man is whom you see (he is the object of the verb). So we use an object relative pronoun (whom/that/(nothing)).

Give it a try. Click here to see a list of the relative pronouns again.

  1. He’s the only student  knew the answer.
  2. Did you see the painting  I bought in Paris?
  3. This is the only bridge  goes to the island.
  4. There are many children  are not able to go to school.
  5. The Italian restaurant  I went to last night has great dessert.

  

Combine the Simple Sentences to make a Subject or Object Relative Clause

1. You are doing exercises. They are for practicing grammar.

Show Answers

2. Do you have my textbook? I lent it to you last week.

Show Answers

3. You can buy tickets at the subway station. They cost about three dollars.

Show Answers

4. She is someone. I used to know her.

Show Answers

5. The keys were in my shoe. I was looking for them all day.

Show Answers

6. The keys were in my shoe. They don’t belong to me.

Show Answers

 

I hope this lesson on adjective clauses (relative clauses) has been useful. Please view the next lesson to learn about the relative pronouns where, when, and whose.

If you have any questions or if you find a mistake, please leave a comment below.

– Matthew Barton (copyright) / Creator of Englishcurrent.com

Related Pages:

Was this helpful? Donate to our web hosting bill to show your support!

2 comments on “English Grammar: Adjective Clauses – Subject & Object Relative Pronouns

  1. lauren frisch (Posted on 7-6-2017 at 17:34) Reply

    I appreciate your excellent website.

    Often there are two ways to combine a sentence. How does one know which sentence to begin with? I am a native speaker and teacher so I know what makes sense but I don’t know how to explain this to students.

    For example: The people work in the office. The people are very friendly.

    You could end up with:
    1.The people who are very friendly work in the office.
    2.The people who work in the office are very friendly.
    The two sentences are grammatically possible but #2 makes more sense.

    Here’s another example:
    The man was English. I wanted to meet him.
    1.The man I wanted to meet was English. It seems like being English was not (or might not have been) the main reason for wanting to meet him.
    2. I wanted to meet the man who was English. It seems like being English was a bigger part of why I wanted to meet him as compared to sentence 1.

    Exercise #1:6 is similar. People live in glass houses. They shouldn’t throw stones.
    1.People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. correct
    2. People who shouldn’t throw stones live in glass houses. nonsensical

    Thanks for any tips and I appreciate your sharing your hard work! Your lessons and exercises are excellent.

    1. mb Post author (Posted on 7-7-2017 at 02:52) Reply

      Hello. Thanks for pointing out 1:6. The order of the sentences was wrong in the exercise (instead of adding the second sentence into the first, I did the opposite).

      You’ve brought up a good question. I’ve struggled with this myself a bit too. Generally speaking, you can tell your students that the subject and predicate (verb ending) are the most important. Adjective clauses provide more (extra though sometimes essential) information about the subject. So, the most important information that the speaker wants to convey should be in the subject and the predicate (“I bought a new bag yesterday”), and the extra information (“It was made in Japan”) in the clause. That explanation should satisfy your students, though often it’s up to the speaker to decide which order makes the most sense for them. I think this is true if we look at your example:
      1.The people who are very friendly work in the office. (not natural)
      2.The people who work in the office are very friendly. (better because the main message is “The people (…) are friendly.” That’s the message the speaker wanted to communicate.

      Re: glass houses and re: the second order being nonsensical. I don’t think it’s nonsensical; just really awkward. But yes, it’s hard to explain. I’m guessing that because it’s a set idiom, the relative clause cannot be omitted while keeping any real meaning in the sentence, i.e. if we delete either ‘who live in glass houses ‘ or ‘shouldn’t throw stones’, the message doesn’t have much communicative value. It is a metaphor. That’s my guess. It’s probably not a good example to use for teaching adjective clauses (maybe I’ll delete it heh).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.