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What is a relative clause?

What is a relative clause?
Relative clauses enrich sentences by offering extra information. We explain how to identify them in a sentence and offer tips to help parents support their child's grammatical understanding.

What is a relative clause?

A relative clause is a specific type of subordinate clause that adapts, describes or modifies a noun.

Relative clauses add information to sentences by using a relative pronoun such as who, that or which.

Relative pronoun Noun that the pronoun refers to
whoRefers to a person
whichRefers to an animal, place or thing
thatCan refer to a person, place or thing

The relative clause is used to add information about the noun, so it must be ‘related’ to the noun.

Here are some examples of relative clauses (in purple):

A relative clause can also be an embedded clause if it is positioned in the middle of a sentence, for example:

When are relative clauses taught in primary school?

In Year 2 children are taught the terms ‘clause’ and ‘subordinate clause’.

In Year 5 children should be taught what a relative clause is and how to use it correctly in their writing.

Relative clauses in the primary-school classroom

Children are taught grammatical terminology and concepts as outlined by the national curriculum (revised in 2014).

Example of practical activities to help children with grammar learning include: 

  • Identifying and highlighting examples of relative clauses in a text or sentence.
  • Adding their own relative clauses to sentences.
  • Manipulating sentences written on pieces of card.
  • Using relative clauses in their writing.
  • Identifying or adding relative clauses when editing their own pieces of extended writing.
  • Playing with relative clauses by changing them to see the effect on the sentence. At home, you could take it in turns with your child to see who can come up with the funniest one!
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