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Session 1

Non-defining relative clauses are a speaker's friend. Dan teaches us five ways to use them in this bite-sized video.

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Activity 1

Activity 1

5 things about non-defining relative clauses

Dan, who is an excellent teacher of English, has a handful of tips to help you learn and use non-defining relative clauses. Learn them, love them and they'll never let you down!

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Dan
Hi Guys! Dan for BBC Learning English here. This time we're going to be taking a look at non-defining relative clauses and why they are awesome! Are you ready? Here we go.

Number 1 – they're free. How cool is that? They are like the free toothpaste you get given when you go to a shop and buy a toothbrush. You don’t need it, but everybody likes something for free. What’s even cooler is, if you don’t want it, you can remove it and the main information from the sentence is the same.

Number 2 - you can always identify them! Unlike sneaky defining relative clauses, non-defining relative clauses are always marked with commas next to the noun which they describe. When being spoken, the intonation pattern of the sentence changes to show where the clause is. For example, 'The pens which I left on the table were stolen.' 'The pens, which I left on the table, were stolen.'

Number 3 - they are proud. Unlike shameful defining relative clauses, which can hide their relative pronoun or use ‘that’, non-defining relative clauses always use the correct relative pronoun - who for people and which for objects. AND they never omit them.

Number 4 - they can count! Non-defining relative clauses are able to quantify a noun, even if the main clause doesn’t. They can be used with determiners such as many, some, all, a few, half etc. This allows us to comment on part of a group rather than all or nothing – like defining relative clauses. 'The pens, many of which I left on the table, were stolen.'

Number 5 - they care about our opinion! Non-defining relative clauses are not only able comment on a noun within a sentence, but allow us to make a comment on the whole sentence itself. This is used to communicate the speaker’s opinion about the events they’ve just mentioned. 'The pens, which I left on the table, were stolen, which surprised me.'

Aren't they cool? Learn them, love them and they'll never let you down. Non-defining relative clauses – a speaker's best friend.

Summary

1.  You can remove a non-defining relative clause and the sentence will still make sense. It adds extra information about the noun.

• Their dog, which spent its first year living on the streets, didn't like sleeping in the house.
• Their dog didn't like sleeping in the house.

2. You can always identify a non-defining relative clause because there is a comma after the noun it's describing. There will always be a comma at the end of the non-defining clause as well unless it finishes the sentence.

• Her hair, which was naturally brown, was dyed blonde.
• She had blonde hair, which was dyed.

3. Non-defining relative clauses always need the correct relative pronoun (which, who, whom). In defining relative clauses, these pronouns are often replaced with 'that'. It's also not possible to leave the pronoun out of a non-defining relative clause.

• Correct: Their car, which was 20 years old, had begun to fall apart.
• Wrong: Their car, that was 20 years old, had begun to fall apart.
• Wrong: Their car, was 20 years old, had begun to fall apart.

4. Non-defining relative clauses can add extra information about the quantity of objects described. We do this by using expressions such as many, some, all, a few, half followed by the correct relative pronoun.

• The people, half of whom had never voted before, elected a new leader.
• The patients, many of whom smoked, were suffering from lung conditions.

5. You can comment on a whole sentence using non-defining relative clauses.

• The pigeons, which were all over the town square, left a terrible mess, which was disgusting.
• The children, who were having a wonderful time, didn't want to go home, which didn't surprise me.

To do

Now it's time for you, who always study hard, to try this quiz.

Relative clauses quiz

5 Questions

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End of Session 1

That's it for this session. We hope you have a better idea about non-defining relative clauses, which can help improve your spoken English.

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Session Grammar

• Non-defining relative clauses

• Their dog, which spent its first year living on the streets, didn't like sleeping in the house.

2. There is a comma before and after the clause.

• Her hair, which was naturally brown, was dyed blonde.

3. Use the correct relative pronoun.

• Correct: Their car, which was 20 years old, had begun to fall apart.
• Wrong: Their car, that was 20 years old, had begun to fall apart.

4. They can add extra information about the quantity of objects described.

• The people, half of whom had never voted before, elected a new leader.

5. You can comment on a whole sentence.

• The pigeons, which were all over the town square, left a terrible mess, which was disgusting.