Students understanding the complexity of language

Chapter 06-05: Clauses II – Relative Clauses


chapter 6: relative clauses

The next dependent clause form is the relative clause, which is  formed when a relative (either relative pronoun or relative adverb) introduces a clause by replacing the subject of the clause. This relative refers to (relates to) or provides additional information about a preceding nominal; therefore, relative clauses always function adjectivally. 
In English, the five prototypical relatives are who, whom, whose, which, and that (not to be confused with the nominal-that). Functioning adjectivally means that the relative clause provides extra information that either defines something or provides non-essential, but interesting, added information. Like adjectives, they  modify nominals, which will be their antecedent.
The car that hit me was changing lanes.
  • That refers to the car. It introduces a relative clause (that hit me) which modifies the car.
The professor whose schedule was changed threatened to quit.
  • Whose refers to the professor. It specifies which professor: the one whose schedule was changed.
Relatives always have an antecedent, or a preceding nominal to which they refer and which they modify.
On occasion, a relative will precede the subject of a clause, most often for the adverbial relatives, where, when, and why. They create relative clauses that function adjectivally within a sentence by modifying a nominal, but if we were analyzing at the word level within their own clauses, the adverbial relative itself would be identified as adverbial since it provides information about time, manner, and place. But the important thing is that the clause is a relative clause and functions adjectivally.
Our great-grandparents lived in a time when the environment was less polluted.
  • Relative clause functions adjectivally, modifying TIME.
  • Relative WHEN functions adverbially in its clause: The environment was less polluted then.
Please explain the reason why you can’t turn in the assignment.
  • Relative clause functions adjectivally, modifying REASON
  • Relative WHY functions adverbially in its clause: You can’t turn in the assignment for some reason.