Relative clauses are also very common post modifiers of noun phrases in academic texts.
A relative clause consists of a relativizer which connects the clause to the head noun plus the clause itself. The relativizer points back (anaphoricallySee the glossary definition ) to the the head noun. This is sometimes called the antecedentSee the glossary definition .
Relativizers are relative pronouns (who, which, whose, that, whom) or relative adverbs (when, where, why).
Relative clauses are also divided into two main types (restrictive and non-restrictive). In restrictive clauses the postmodifier is closely identified with the head noun; it has a defining function. In non-restrictive clauses the postmodifier serves to add more information about the head word. Non-restrictive clauses are separated from the head noun by a comma.
The relativizer "who" is only used with a human head noun phrase.
kidshead noun phrase who listened to the BritPop band Blurrelativizer "who" + relative clause (context)Research conducted in the 1990s found a “Blur Effect” – where kids who listened to the BritPop band Blur seemed to do better on tests.
many profoundly blind peoplehead noun phrase, who cannot perceive lightrelativizer "who" + relative clause, (context)In fact many profoundly blind people, who cannot perceive light, must cope with this de-synchronization in their daily lives.
The first example is a restrictive relative clause - it defines or restricts the type of kids who did better on tests. The second example is a non-restrictive clause - it just gives extra information about blind people.
The relativizer "which" is almost exclusively used with inanimate head noun phrases or head noun phrases referring to animals.
detailshead noun phrase which are no longer availablerelativizer "which" + relative clause (context)Technology has changed the way we organise information so that we only remember details which are no longer available, and prioritise the location of information over the content itself.
the hormone leptinhead noun phrase, which helps control hungerrelativizer "which" + relative clause, (context)Levels of the hormone leptin, which helps control hunger, go up.
The first example is a restrictive relative clause. The second example is a non-restrictive clause - it just gives extra information about leptin.
The relativizer "that" is used with both animate and inanimate head noun phrases. However, it is rare to see "that" used as a relativizer for human subjects in academic texts and there are no examples here.
the ideahead noun phrase that listening to Mozart makes you “smarter”relativizer "that" + relative clause (context)You may have heard of the Mozart effect – the idea that listening to Mozart makes you “smarter”.
ingredient in household vinegarhead noun phrase (the head noun is "ingredient" postmodified with a prepositional phrase "in household vinegar"), that gives its distinctive smell and tasterelativizer "that" + relative clause, (context)As the film starts to rot, it gives off acetic acid, the same ingredient in household vinegar that gives its distinctive smell and taste.
The first example is a restrictive relative clause and the second is a non-restrictive relative clause .
The relativizer "whose" is used with both animate and inanimate head noun phrases. It is used to indicate possession. Where it is used with inanimate head nouns it usually indicates membership of a category.
a physical oceanographerhead noun phrase whose work has had a “transformative impact” on our understanding of Earth’s oceansrelativizer "whose" + relative clause (context)This year, Australia’s prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize for Science has been awarded to a physical oceanographer whose work has had a “transformative impact” on our understanding of Earth’s oceans.
the ordinary ancient Egyptianshead noun phrase whose mummies have been excavated over the centuriesrelativizer "whose" + relative clause, (context)From Tutankhamun to the ordinary ancient Egyptians whose mummies have been excavated over the centuries, there has been a long history of mismanagement and mistreatment.
Both of these examples are restrictive relative clauses.
The relativizer "whom" is only used with a human head noun phrase. It is rarely used in academic texts and no examples are provided here.
The adverb relativizer "where" is used to give information about events in a particular location.
unnatural surfaces,head noun phrase where their camouflage doesn’t workadverb relativizer "where" + relative clause (context)Or, when the Sun rises, insects may find themselves trapped on unnatural surfaces, where their camouflage doesn’t work: Now they are easy prey for birds and lizards.
The shellhead noun phrase, where some hydrogen is still burning to form heliumadverb relativizer "where" + relative clause, (context)The shell, where some hydrogen is still burning to form helium, starts expanding to dissipate the heat and the star becomes cooler and redder.
Both of these examples are non-restrictive relative clauses.
The adverb relativizer "when" is used to give information about events at a particular time.
the instanthead noun phrase when the Moon is at first or third quarteradverb relativizer "when" + relative clause (context)Also, at the instant when the Moon is at first or third quarter, Aristarchus reasoned that the Sun, Earth, and Moon would form a right-angled triangle.
1950, head noun phrase when acetate films were becoming popular,adverb relativizer "when" + relative clause (context)For films made in 1950, when acetate films were becoming popular, this implies that vinegar syndrome won’t develop until about the year 2400.
The first example is a restrictive relative clause and the second is a non-restrictive relative clause.
The adverb relativizer "why" is used to give information about the reason for a particular event. In fact the adverb relativizer "why" is almost always preceded by the word "reason" or "reasons".
systemic reasonshead noun phrase why young people bullyadverb relativizer "why" + relative clause (context)There are also systemic reasons why young people bully. Schools that don’t adequately supervise students, or have practices or policies that exclude young people with diverse needs can contribute to bullying.
a few reasons head noun phrase why the weight creeps back onadverb relativizer "why" + relative clause (context)There are a few reasons why the weight creeps back on. First, our brain hates it when we lose weight. It considers this a reduction in our chances of survival, so it does everything in its power to drag your weight back up.
The reasonhead noun phrase why we watch videos of Echo and find them amusingadverb relativizer "why" + relative clause (context)The reason why we watch videos of Echo and find them amusing is because we are instinctively drawn to animal behaviour we can make sense of through our own.
This structure is almost always followed by an explanation of the reason or reasons, either within the same sentence or in the following one, as you can see from the context provided for the examples above.
Sometimes the relativizer is omitted. These sentences can always be rewritten inserting an appropriate relativizer, as show below.
plentyhead noun phrase we still don’t know about the brain’s white matter[no relativizer] + relative clause (context)There’s plenty we still don’t know about the brain’s white matter.
This could be rewritten as "plenty that we still don’t know about the brain’s white matter".
the networks head noun phrase they form[no relativizer] + relative clause (context)These results suggest the alternative: that links between regions – and the networks they form – are critical for how we think and behave.
This could be rewritten as "the networks which they form".
the wayhead noun phrase the studies were carried out[no relativizer] + relative clause (context)Despite these reported benefits, however, a lot of the above research on tai chi has been of poor quality, with unclear or a high risk of bias in results because of the way the studies were carried out – for example, not making sure people are randomly assigned to a tai chi or control group.
This could be rewritten as "the way in which the studies were carried out".
Relative clauses with no relativizer are more common where a personal pronoun is present as a subject in the relative clause, as in the first example above. Long relative clause usually include a relativizer, otherwise the sentence becomes more difficult to parseSee the glossary definition .
Test your understanding with the Relative Clauses Quiz.
These examples were sourced from articles in The Conversation: Music and Study; Dark Nights; Internet and Memory; Historical Film Decay; Ocean Research Prizes; Claopatra's Tomb; Moths and Light; Stars; Greek Astronomy; Bullying; Weight Loss; Lyrebird;