Advanced Grammar for IELTS: Relative clauses

Advanced Grammar for IELTS: Relative clauses – Diagnose Test, Grammar Explanation & Practice Exercises

A      DIAGNOSTIC TEST: Relative clauses

Underline the correct alternative in bold.


Do you know anyone which/ who can repair cigarette burns on clothes?

  1. It’s usually children from deprived backgrounds that/ which cause the worst problems.
  2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, that/ which topped the best-seller lists for weeks on end, was never formally publicised.
  3. The Council provides bins in that/ which waste paper can be deposited for recycling.
  4. All cows over 30 months who/ which may have been exposed to BSE will be destroyed.
  5. Address the reference ‘to who/whom it may concern’, as it’s very formal.
  6. The town hall clock played a different tune at twelve every day, which/ what amused the locals and attracted tourists.
  7. ‘There’s a lucky person in this hall who/ whose lottery ticket has just won them £2,000!’
  8. ’Why don’t you tell the police which/ what you told me yesterday?’
  9. The film is set in the period where/ when the divide between rich and poor was much greater than it is now.
  10. You can put the photo whichever/ wherever you think it looks best.

Each sentence below contains a mistake. Find the mistakes and correct them.


Orders for that we have received payment will be processed immediately.    …….which…….

  1. The jackets which this shop makes them are of excellent quality
  2. Jack has prepared his favourite dish from Delia Smith’s recipe book, which he is about to eat.
  3. Can you get me one of those chocolate bars have got toffee in the middle?
  4. The charity event raised over £1,000 for St Andrew’s Hospice which opened last year.
  5. I’d always wanted to take Graham to the city where I grew up in.
  6. Have you invited the residents who living here on a temporary basis to the meeting?
  7. He presented the visiting ambassador with a genuine Ming vase, that was worth over $10,000
  8. The bank robbery what I told you about is in the local newspaper.
  9. High taxation is often the main reason which governments fall.
  10. The new buyer identified a dozen new sources for the material, most of them proved to be reliable.

B       GRAMMAR EXPLANATION: Relative clauses

Relative clauses are subordinate clauses which refer to the noun of the main clause, identifying it or adding extra information. There are two types of relative clause: defining clauses (identifying the noun or classifying it as part of a group) and non-defining clauses (adding information about the noun). This unit examines both types of relative clause and the pronouns and adverbs used to introduce relative clauses.


1A. Form and use

Relative clauses are subordinate clauses introduced by relative pronouns, such as that, which or who. These clauses give information about someone or something in the main clause. Compare these examples:

I used to live in one of those houses. They have now been demolished.

I used to live in one of those houses  that have now been demolished.

main clause                                                      relative clause

The relative pronoun is the subject or object of the relative clause. It is therefore unnecessary to repeat the noun from the main clause or introduce a personal pronoun to replace it:

X    I used to live in one of those houses that they have now been demolished.

We usually put the relative clause as close as possible to the noun it refers to, otherwise the meaning may not be clear:

X  Jack has prepared his favourite dish from Jamie Smith’s recipe book, which he is about to eat

Jack has prepared his favourite dish, which he is about to eat, from Jamie Smith’s recipe book.

We often avoid relative clauses in casual speech and writing, preferring shorter ways of defining or adding information:

People who come from Wales are often quite musical. (relative clause)

Welsh people are often quite musical. (adjective)

People from Wales are often quite musical. (prepositional phrase)

1B. Subjects and objects

A relative pronoun can be the subject of a relative clause:

Last week I saw that film which won all the Oscars.

subject relative pronoun

Here, the pronoun is the subject of the relative clause (the film won the Oscars), even though it is the object of the main clause (I saw the film).

A relative pronoun can also be the object of a relative clause:

Last week I saw the film which you made at college.

object relative pronoun

Here, the pronoun is the object of the subordinate clause (you made the film).

In defining relative clauses, we can omit the relative pronoun when it is the object of the relative clause, but not when it is the subject:

X Last week I saw the film won all the Oscars.

Last week I saw the film you made at college.

1C. Defining relative clauses

A defining relative clause identifies or classifies a noun or pronoun in the main clause:

  • Identifying relative clause: Is this the book that you were looking for?
  • Classifying relative clause: Would all those who have booked dinner please go to the restaurant now?

(In the second example, the relative clause classifies the members of a group.)

In defining relatives, the relative clause gives information which is necessary for the sense of the sentence. In the first example above, if we say just Is this the book?, this does not convey the key meaning of the whole sentence, i.e. the book that you were looking for.

We often use defining relative clauses to describe an important quality of someone or something:

Van Gogh was an artist who used a lot of bold, vibrant colours.

We often use a relative clause with the same pattern for emphasis, with introductory It:

It is always violent crime that provokes the most extreme reaction from the public.

1D. Non-defining relative clauses

We usually use non-defining relative clauses to add extra information about the subject of a main clause:

ITV’s News at Ten, which occupied the mid-evening slot for many years, was a very popular programme.

(main clause = ITV’s News at Ten was a very popular programme.)

We can also use non-defining relative clauses to show consecutive actions:

Heskey passed the ball to Owen, who scored a magnificent goal

We use non-defining relative clauses mainly in writing and formal speech.

1E. Punctuation and pausing

We usually use commas to separate the relative clause from the main clause in non-defining relatives, but we do not use them in defining relatives:

The tribespeople, who traded with the settlers, retained their land. (All of the tribespeople retained their land, and, incidentally, they traded with the settlers.)

The tribespeople who traded with the settlers retained their land. (Only some of the tribespeople retained their land – this defines a group.)

The use of commas reflects the way we say the two types of relative clause.

In defining relative clauses, there is no pause between the main clause and the relative clause:

We asked for the double room which had a sea view.

In non-defining relatives, there is a short pause after the main clause or between the two parts of the main clause:

We were given a lovely double room (  ), which had a sea view.

I first met Harry Gardiner (  ). who eventually became my father-in-law (  ), at a Law Society meeting.

1F. Prepositions with relative clauses

We can use prepositions with relative pronouns. Where we put the preposition depends on formality:

  • Informal: Have you seen the little case that/ which I keep my contact lenses in?
  • Formal: This system provides a case in which the contact lenses can be kept.

Note: We do not put a preposition before the relative pronoun that:

X  This system provides a case in that the contact lenses can be kept.

Note:  If we put a preposition before who, the pronoun always becomes whom. Compare:

The people who this report is addressed to will have to consider carefully the consequences of the proposed cuts.

The people to whom this report is addressed will have to consider carefully the consequences of the proposed cuts.

We can often use where (for places) or when (for times) instead of which + preposition:

This is the house where I grew up/ which I grew up in/ in which I grew up.

1G. Reduced relative clauses

We often ‘reduce’ a relative clause, i.e. we shorten it by omitting the pronoun and verb. We can do this with a participle phrase:

Marilyn was the woman living in the flat underneath us at the time (= … who  lived/was living in …)

The clauses struck out of the agreement were all unimportant. (= … which were struck out/which we struck out …)

Another possibility is to use an infinitive phrase:

Newton was the first person to really understand the laws of gravity. (= … who really understood …)


2A. General use

This table lists relative pronouns and adverbs and how they can be used:

Use for Use as
Pronounce Subject Object Defining Non-defining
1 who People, animal
   whom People x
2 which Objects, animal
   Which ideas x
3 that People, object, animal x
4 whose Relationships, possessions
5 no pronoun People, things, animals x x
6 where Places
7 when Times
8 why Reasons
Nominal pronoun
9 what Objects, ideas ( mean the thing that) x

Notes on the table:

1: We sometimes use who to refer to animals, particularly domestic pets:

Is Sheba the dog who was run over and nearly killed last year?

Whom is formal and we rarely use it in speech. We now mainly use it after prepositions:

I am referring to the person with whom you were seen on that evening.

2: Note that we always use which (not who) to refer to inanimate objects.

We can also use which to refer to the ‘idea’ of a whole clause:

When he came home, he was unusually attentive, which made her very suspicious.

Here, which refers to the fact that ‘he was unusually attentive’.

3: We can use that to refer to people or objects, but we usually prefer to use who for a person when the pronoun is the subject of the relative clause:

Ms Harrison is the lawyer who/that has been chosen to represent you.

Note: We do not use that in non-defining relative clauses:

X  This offer, that will not be repeated, must end next week.

Note: In US English that is more common than which or who in defining relative clauses.

4: It is possible, though not very common, to use whose to refer to objects.

It would only be possible to colonise planets whose atmosphere contained enough oxygen to sustain human life. (= the atmosphere of which)

5: We often omit a relative pronoun when it refers to the object of a defining relative clause:

The girl (who) I met in the florist’s was at the party. (= I met the girl.)

We cannot omit the pronoun if it is the subject of the clause:

X  The girl works for the florist in the High Street was at the party.

The girl who works for the florist in the High Street was at the party.

Note: We cannot omit an object relative pronoun in non-defining relative clauses:

X  Last year’s winner presented the cup, each holder keeps for the year.

 Last year’s winner presented the cup, which each holder keeps for the year.

6: We can use which or that + a preposition instead of where:

Mozart’s birthplace and the house where he composed ‘The Magic Flute’ are both now museums.

Mozart’s birthplace and the house that he composed The Magic Flute’ in are both now museums.

7: We can use that as an alternative to when in defining relative clauses:

I remember – it was the day when/ that the heatwave started.

We can use which or that + a preposition instead of when:

The attacks continued up to the day on which the agreement was signed.

8: The only noun which takes why as a relative pronoun is reason:

Sometimes he thought her clear morality was the reason why/ that he loved her.

We can use which + for instead of why.

High taxation is often the main reason for which governments fall.

Note: It is possible to use relative adverbs without the noun to which they refer:

It’s (the place) where that rock festival is held every year.

9: We use what to mean ‘the thing that/ which’. The clause containing ‘what’ is a nominal clause, i.e. the whole clause acts as a noun, either a subject or an object. While ‘what’ isn’t used in the same way as ‘that’ or ‘which’ it can fulfil the same functions as the other relative pronouns:

Why don’t you tell the police what you told me yesterday?

In this example what you told me yesterday is the object of the verb tell. It means the same as:

Why don’t you tell the police the story (that) you told me yesterday.

We cannot use what to replace who, which or that:

X  It was the money what I wanted, not the fame.

It was the money (that) I wanted, not the fame.

This could be expressed as:

The money was what I wanted, not the fame. (= the thing that I wanted)

2B. Modifying a relative pronoun/ adverb

We often use modifiers, such as all of and many of before which or whom in a non- defining relative clause to refer to the subject or object of the clause:

The supermarket removed from the shelves all of its jars of tomato puree, several of which were found to contain fragments of glass.

The college entered over a hundred students for the exam, all of whom passed.

We interviewed fourteen applicants for the post, none of whom we thought suitable.

2C. Whichever, whenever, etc.

In defining relative clauses we can modify the pronoun or adverb with –ever to give the meaning of anything, anyone, anywhere, etc.:

Use whichever phone you want – they all have outside lines.

I’d like to meet whoever did that to the garden hedge!

You can put the photo wherever you think it looks best. I don’t mind.


Q 1.

Match each headline (1-10) with a sentence (A-J). Then write one sentence containing a relative clause (defining or non-defining) to combine each headline and sentence that accompanies it.  Use the present perfect tense in the main clause.













A He was disgraced in a financial scandal.

B They were spoiled in the recent US presidential election.

C His contract with Ferrari finishes at the end of the season.

D It was held in The Hague.

E She shares the house with her British husband, Guy Ritchie.

F It was in danger of closing through lack of


C She refused to diet to a size 12.

H The man jumped off the Severn Bridge.

I They have been studying cancer genes for years.

J She is famous for inventing the mini-skirt.

0 Scientists ………(I) who have been studying cancer genes for years have just discovered a new wonder – cure for cancer. ………………………….

1 The body of a man………………………………………………………………………………………………………

2 The fashion icon Mary Quant ………………………………………………………………………………………

3 The global warming conference ……………………………………………………………………………………

4 Formula 1 driver Eddie Irvine………………………………………………………………………………………

5 The hand count of votes ……………………………………………………………………………………………..

6 London Zoo ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

7 The politician ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

8 The size 16 model ………………………………………………………………………………………………………

9 Madonna’s house in the UK ………………………………………………………………………………………..

Q 2.

Choose the best sentence to describe each cartoon.

Q 3.

Complete the following article by writing each missing relative pronoun or adverb in the space provided. Use only one word for each space.

Jack of Hearts

Jack of Hearts is a new six-part drama series (0) ..which/ that …comes to our screens this week. It has been given the prime Wednesday evening 9.30 slot, (1)…. shows that the network has faith in its latest creation. The first episode opens to a scene (2)………. a young man is being chased. He stops at a phone box and makes a desperate call. This calls wakes up a man (3)……… most viewers will recognise as Keith Allen – the slightly sleazy unshaven Cockney (4)……. characters are usually less than wholesome. This time, however, he is on the right side of the law, playing a probation officer with a complicated professional and personal life, both of (5)………. form the main themes of the series. The writers have managed to find a different angle on his personal problems. At the centre of these problems is his stepdaughter, for (6)……… he attempts to keep the household together. His relationship with the girl’s mother, (7)………. seems to be a bad-tempered, grumpy woman, is further compromised later in the series (8)…………. she joins the staff of a college at (9)………… she meets a former lover. Thus the ground is prepared in this first episode for a series (10)………. may help to lift British summertime TV out of its regular slump.

Q 4.

This article has too many relative clauses in it. Change the underlined parts so that you don’t use a relative clause. The first one has been done for you.

Controversial school to close

Brockenhurst School, which opened as an educational experiment in 1974. is to close this summer. All the teachers (0) who are      currently employed by the school will be relocated to other schools in the area (1) which have staff vacancies.

Brockenhurst was founded by (2) Sir Patrick McDonald, who comes from Inverness, at a time when new educational theories were welcomed by the establishment and experiments in education were supported. However, in recent years, such initiatives have been frowned upon as successive governments have urged a ‘back- to-basics’ approach.

The school currently employs 28 teachers, (3) all of whom come from the holistic school of education. Most of the teachers have been at the school for at least 15 years. There are approximately 780 students (4) who are of different ages at the school, and they will all transfer to schools in the region. Staff (5) who are currently living at the school will be found alternative housing by the local council.

Sir Patrick was the first person (6) who was informed of the government’s decision and he passed the bad news on to staff and students at a meeting (7) which was held last week. Sir Patrick, who is 62, has decided to take early retirement. Although Sir Patrick himself was unavailable for comment, a spokesperson for the school told us. ‘We are all very sorry about the closure. For over 25 years we have run an establishment (8) which has been dedicated to making learning a rich and enjoyable experience. All the staff and students (9) who have been participating over the years will agree that this is a sad day not only for the local community but for education in this country as a whole.’


(0) who are currently employed by the school  => currently employed by the school

Q 5.

Complete the article at the top of the page opposite with an appropriate relative pronoun or adverb (if necessary) and a phrase from the box. Use each phrase once only. Write the letter of each phrase (A-l) in the spaces (1-8).











A         raise huge amounts of money

B         only the privileged can take part

C         most of us can only dream about

D         activities are as diverse as

E          she was able to raise so much

F          women hire private jets to go shopping

G         has given nearly $200 million

H         you often can’t find a cab

I           they wear only once


Women who rule New York

There is another world in New York beyond the tourist attractions and the high-rise blocks (0)…which C…… It’s a world (1)….. and pay several thousand dollars for a dress (2)……… These are women for whom one of the modern-day necessities is having a personal car and driver in New York, (3)            ………….These women, however, are not only interested in designer clothes and facelifts, but they are also serious philanthropists, many of (4)…….. for charity. Brooke Astor, for example, is a 97-year-old socialite (5)……….. to charitable causes in the last 40 years. This ‘Queen of New York Society’, (6)……….. visiting elementary schools and attending charity dinners, has raised $4 million in one evening alone. In an explanation of (7)……….., she admits that she tries to stimulate competition amongst her wealthy and famous guests. This is a ratified life in (8)………., but which does a lot of good for the less fortunate.

Q 6.

Read the following text. In most lines, there is an unnecessary word, a word missing or a punctuation error. For each numbered line 1-22, identify the mistake and write the correct version in the space on the right. Some lines are correct. Indicate these lines with a tick (✓). The first two lines are examples (0 and 00).

0          Tourism today is an industry V has grown so much in recent years that in many   which

00        countries it provides the greatest single contribution to the country’s revenue          ✓

1          But is it always a good thing? Mass tourism which is a relatively recent

2          phenomenon, brings with it a whole raft of problems. First, it means that a

3          country’s economy may rely on an industry which it is wholly seasonal, with

4          the consequence that the huge numbers of people work in tourism during the

5          season have no income during the rest of the year. Some find wherever work

6          they can, but others may turn to a government is already receiving lower

7          revenues for support.

8          Second, it is true that in many countries tourists are destroying the very

9          sights they flock to see them. They take home pieces of an ancient monument

10        or of a coral reef which will gradually result in erosion of the attractions and

11        therefore of the industry. While this kind of destruction may be wholly

12        unintentional, a certain type of tourist what wants only a ‘good time’ can be

13        very destructive in a different way: they drink too much, pick fights and

14        destroy the clubs and bars where they are drinking in. Obviously, it is then

15        this behaviour by that the local community judges all members of that

16        nationality group, creating enmity between races rather than fostering

17        empathy, what should be one of the main advantages of tourism.

18        Finally, there are many places tourism is threatening a well-established

19        way of life: people that whose livelihoods traditionally come from older

20        industries, such as agriculture or fishing, are finding new jobs and wealth in

21        the over-developed tourist regions, but at what cost? It is sometimes difficult

22        to understand exactly which a country gains from tourism.


1          that

2          which

3          which

4          which

5          whom

6          which

7          whose

8          what

9          when

10        wherever

11        which this shop makes-them => which this shop makes

12        Jack has prepared-his favourite dish from Delia Smith’s recipe-book, which he is about to-eat- => Jack has prepared his favourite dish, which he is about to eat, from Delia Smith’s recipe book.

13        bars have got toffee in- the middle? => bars which/ that have got toffee in the middle?/ bars with toffee in the middle?

14        St Andrew’s Hospice which opened last-year-. => St Andrew’s Hospice, which opened last year.

15        the city where I grew up in-. => the city where I grew up./the city which/that I grew up in.

16        the residents who living here => the residents who are living here/the residents living here

17        a genuine Ming vase, that-was worth => a genuine Ming vase, which was worth

18        The bank-robbery-what told you-about => The bank robbery that/which I told you about

19        the main-reason which governments fall => the main reason why governments fall.

20        most of them proved => most of which proved


Q 1.

1 H The body of a man who jumped off the Severn Bridge has been found in the River Severn.

2 J The fashion icon Mary Quant, who is famous for inventing the mini-skirt, has left her business.

3 D The global warming conference, which was held in The Hague, has ended without agreement.

4  C Formula 1 driver Eddie Irvine, whose contract with Ferrari finishes at the end of the season, has narrowly missed gaining the Formula 1 World Champion title (today).

5   B The hand count of votes which/that were spoiled in the recent US presidential election has continued.

6     F London Zoo, which was in danger of closing through lack of funds, has remained open.

7  A The politician who was disgraced in a financial scandal has handed in his resignation.

8  G The size 16 model who refused to diet to a size 12 has won the new Estee Lauder contract.

9  E Madonna s house in the UK, which she shares with her British partner, Guy Ritchie, has been burgled.

Q 2.

1 B      2 A      3 B      4 A

Q 3.

1 which           2 where           3 who/ whom/that

4 whose           5 which           6 whom

7 who              8 when            9 which           10 which/that

Q 4.

1 with staff vacancies

2 Sir Patrick McDonald, from Inverness

3 all from the holistic school of education.

4 of different ages

5 currently living

6 to be informed of the government’s decision

7 (held) last week

8 dedicated to

9 participating over the years

Q 5.

1 where F

2 (that/which) I

3 where H

4 whom A

5 who C

6 whose D

7 why E

8 which B

Q 6.

1 tourism which => tourism, which

2 ✓

3 which it is => which is wholly seasonal

4 people work => people who work

5 wherever work => work wherever

6 government is-already receiving => government which/that is already receiving/government

already receiving

7 ✓

8 ✓

9 to see them. =>  to see.

10 reef which => reef, which

11 ✓

12 tourist what wants => tourist who/that wants

13 ✓

14 whore they are drinking- in. => where they are drinking./that/which they are drinking in.

15 that => which

16 ✓

17 what => which

18 places tourism => places where/ in which tourism

19 that whose => whose

20 ✓

21 ✓

22 which => what

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