Omitting Relative Pronouns

Adjective clauses, which are also known as relative clauses, give extra information about a noun or pronoun. As such, they are an essential part of English speaking and writing, and can add a huge amount of detail to our language. It’s no surprise, then, that they are important for students who want to get a better IELTS score.

Video Lesson

First, here’s a new video I just posted that explains the basics of omitting relative pronouns:

 

What are Adjective Clauses?

I’ve already covered the question of what are adjective clauses in a previous lesson, but I will review it briefly here. If an adjective is a word that modifies a noun, then an adjective clause is a group of words that does the same thing. Simple!

Look at this example:

  • There’s no such thing as a government which is completely perfect.

Here we have a sentence with two clauses – an independent clause and a dependent clause. The independent clause is “there’s no such thing as a government” and the dependent clause is “which is completely perfect.”

The second clause acts as an adjective, even though it is a group of words. It gives us more information about the noun at the end of the first clause, “government.”

The adjective clause doesn’t always have to come at the end of the sentence. In fact, it is often in the middle. Just make sure that it directly follows the noun (or pronoun) that it describes:

  • The boy, who looks a little like Leo Messi, ate his dinner quickly.
  • The house that was torn down a few weeks ago really made me feel scared.

Why do Some People Say Relative Clause?

You might see some textbooks use the term “relative clause” instead of “adjective clause.” I prefer adjective clause because it helps students to better understand the purpose of the clause, as well as how to use it – ie it functions as an adjective.

In the examples above, you will notice a certain type of word at the beginning of each adjective clause – which, who, that. These are relative pronouns, and they give the name “relative clauses.”

However, there’s a problem:

NOT ALL ADJECTIVE CLAUSES INCLUDE A RELATIVE PRONOUN!!!

Omitting the Relative Pronoun

Look at this sentence:

  • I’ll tell you about some of the problems immigration causes.

The independent clause is “I’ll tell you about some of the problems” and the dependent (adjective) clause is “immigration causes.” As you can see, there is no relative pronoun. This is one reason I don’t like the term “relative clause.”

So what happened?Relative pronouns

Let’s look at another way to write the same sentence:

  • I’ll tell you about some of the problems that immigration causes.

In this type of sentence, we can omit (that means, “delete”) the relative clause.

Why Omit the Relative Pronoun?

The rule for omitting the relative pronoun is this:

When the relative pronoun acts as the subject of an adjective clause, they cannot be omitted:

  • She’s one of those people who can sleep easily.

When the relative pronoun acts as the object of an adjective clause, they can be omitted:

  • She’s one of those people (whom) you can trust.

In the first example, “who” is the subject of the clause and “can sleep” is the verb. In the second example, “whom” is the object and “you” is the subject, with “can trust” as the verb.

Note: If you find this difficult, search for the verb in a clause and then ask who or what is doing the verb. That will be the subject. If there is a relative pronoun prior to the subject, it is the object of the sentence.

More Examples

  • There’s an amazing new movie (which) you really ought to see.

You = subject; which = object

  • I ran into a girl who knew you in college.

Who = subject

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel. His other IELTS website is called IELTS Teaching.

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