Grammar Reference

Defining relative clauses

Meaning and use

Defining relative clauses give us important information about the person, thing or place that we are talking about. When making a relative clause, we can use the following relative pronouns: who for people, that and which for things, and where for places.

The police officer arrested the man who robbed the bank.

In this example, ‘who robbed the bank’ tells us which man the police officer arrested. Without this information, we do not know which man was arrested.


David visited the place where we first met.

Again, ‘where we first met’ tells us which place David visited.


These are the shoes that I bought in Tokyo.

Summer is the season which I enjoy the most.

‘That I bought in Tokyo’ adds information about the shoes, and ‘which I enjoy the most’ adds information about the season.



A defining relative clause is made with noun + relative pronoun + rest of clause.


My father is the man who owns this restaurant.

The restaurant where we met closed down last year.


This isn’t the sandwich that I ordered.

David didn’t recognise the woman who waved at him.  


Are you the person who called earlier?

Is this the cafe where you left your handbag?


Take note: using ‘whom’ instead of ‘who’

In formal speech and written English, whom replaces who when the relative pronoun refers to the object of the relative clause.

The person who called me was my father. (who = subject)

The person whom I called was my father. (who = object)


Spoken English

In informal speech, the pronoun that can replace who, which and where.

Jennifer is the woman that I love.

The library is the place that I feel the most relaxed.


If the relative pronoun functions as the object of the relative clause, the relative pronoun can be left out completely.

Kelly is the woman whom I love. = Kelly is the woman I love.

This is the bag that I bought. = This is the bag I bought.


However, if the relative pronoun is the subject of the relative clause, it cannot be left out. Here, who refers to the subject.

He’s the man. He found my wallet.

He’s the man who found my wallet.


Therefore, the following sentence is incorrect:

He’s the man found my wallet.