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Adjectival Clause

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English

You might have already learned about the different types of clauses in English: independent and dependent clauses, adjectival and adverbial clauses, and the purpose of clauses in a sentence. Now it's time to go a level deeper, and investigate the adjectival clause.

What is a Clause, Again?

Before diving into adjectival clauses, here's a refresher on clauses in general.

  • A clause is a meaningful group of words made up of a subject and a predicate.
  • Clauses can be independent or dependent.
  • An independent clause (also called a main clause) is a clause that can exist alone as a full sentence.
  • A dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) is a clause that can't exist on its own as a full sentence.

Now you're ready to move on to the adjectival clause!

Adjectival Clause Definition

To start out, here's the definition of the term adjectival clause.

Adjectival Clause English Dictionary Definition StudySmarter

The definition of an adjectival clause. Image from flaticon.

An adjectival clause (also called an adjective clause or relative clause) is a dependent clause that acts as an adjective.

If you hear adjectival, adjective, or relative clause, they're all referring to the same thing! This explanation uses them interchangeably.

As a reminder, here's the definition of an adjective.

An adjective is a word that adds information to a noun or pronoun.

One of the other names for an adjectival clause is a relative clause. Relative clauses usually start with a relative pronoun.

A relative pronoun is a special pronoun that introduces a relative clause.

These are the most common relative pronouns in English.

  • who
  • that
  • which
  • whose
  • who
  • where
  • when
  • why

You might notice that these words also have other functions. That's true—these words have different functions in different contexts. They act as relative pronouns in this specific situation by marking the beginning of relative clauses. Later, we'll see some examples of relative pronouns in use!

What is the purpose of an adjectival clause?

Why use an adjectival clause when an adjective does the same job?

An adjective clause can sometimes add more explanation to a sentence than a single adjective can. An adjective clause can also sometimes make a sentence flow more naturally. These examples show the difference that an adjective clause can make.

My good friend is visiting later this month.

The adjective good isn't super descriptive; what does good friend mean? One person's definition of good friend might be different from someone else's. A whole clause replacing good could provide a better description.

My friend that I've known since kindergarten is visiting this month.

The adjective clause that I've known since kindergarten gives a clearer description of the friend than just the adjective good.

In short, an adjectival clause is just another way of adding information to a noun or pronoun in a sentence. It can be useful because it allows for clearer explanations.

Types of Adjectival Clause

The types of adjectival clause include the following

Essential adjectival clause

An essential (also called restrictive) adjectival clause specifies the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

An essential adjectival clause adds essential information for identifying the noun or pronoun. You can also think of it this way: a restrictive adjectival clause restricts the noun or pronoun by limiting it to a specific reference.

The dog that I saw an hour ago is still waiting outside the café!

The adjective clause that I saw an hour ago specifies which dog we're talking about. The adjective clause is restrictive because it restricts the dog to refer to one specific dog: the one that I saw an hour ago. The clause is essential because it adds essential information that helps the reader identify the dog.

Nonessential adjectival clause

A nonessential (also called non-restrictive) adjectival clause describes the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

A nonessential adjectival clause adds nonessential information that explains the noun or pronoun in more detail. If you're using the term non-restrictive, a non-restrictive adjectival clause does not restrict the noun or pronoun.

Julian, who works at the gym, asked where you were yesterday.

The relative clause who works at the gym modifies the proper noun, Julian. Julian is clearly a specific person, and it seems like the person being addressed already knows Julian. Because of this, the extra information that Julian works at the gym is nonessential.

Examples of Adjectival Clauses

You've already seen a couple of specific examples of adjectival clauses. Now get some practice by looking at more examples of adjectival clauses in different contexts.

The restaurant they opened a month ago is already closed down.

The adjective clause they opened a month ago adds more information to the noun restaurant. It adds essential information by helping to specify the restaurant.

Notice that this adjectival clause doesn't start with a relative pronoun! Sometimes it's okay to leave off the relative pronoun in restrictive relative clauses.

My old guitar, which I thought was completely broken, can actually still play nicely.

The adjective clause which I thought was completely broken adds nonessential information to the noun guitar. The clause is nonessential because it explains the guitar further, but doesn't help us identify the specific guitar.

You can see from this example that a nonessential adjective clause doesn't work as well without the relative pronoun: my old guitar, I thought was completely broken doesn't seem right without which to start the clause.

Ashley, who we know from debate club, is moving to Ohio next month.

The adjective clause who we know from debate club adds nonessential information to Ashley. The clause is nonessential because it explains more about Ashley, but doesn't help to specify who Ashley is.

In some formal grammar rules, this clause should be whom we know from debate club, instead of who. The rule is that whom should refer to the object of a sentence, and who should refer to the subject. This rule is starting to go away: who is used to refer to both a subject and an object, since whom isn't used much in everyday conversation anymore. But if you want to write in an extra formal register, you can still use whom in this context.

Identification of Adjectival Clause

To find out if a clause is an adjectival clause, ask yourself which word is receiving new information from the clause. In other words, which word is the clause modifying? If it modifies a noun or pronoun, it's an adjectival clause.

Adjctival Clause Thinking Face Identifying Clauses StudySmarter

Learning to identify an adjectival clause. Image from flaticon.

The best book I've ever read is Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

What is I've ever read modifying? You can put this into a question: What have I ever read? The book. Book is a noun, so the clause I've ever read is an adjectival clause]

We traveled where we'd never gone before.

What is where we'd never gone before modifying? Or, as a question: What is where we'd never gone before? That's where we traveled. Traveled is a verb, not a noun or pronoun, so where we'd never gone before is not an adjectival clause. To be specific, since this clause modifies a verb, it's an adverbial clause.

The easiest way to tell an essential and nonessential adjectival clause apart is by looking at the commas. A nonessential adjectival clause is almost always offset by two commas. Sometimes the only difference between an essential and nonessential adjectival clause is the existence of commas.

That soccer game that I went to yesterday was really exciting.

That soccer game, that I went to yesterday, was really exciting.

These clauses are exactly the same except for the commas, but they have slightly different meanings.

The first (essential) clause specifies that the soccer game we're talking about is the one we went to yesterday. Maybe we've been to more than one, and we have to make it clear which one we're talking about.

The second sentence already refers to one specific soccer game, and the (nonessential) clause adds the extra explanation that the game was yesterday.

Did you read these two clauses in different ways because of the commas? When we're speaking out loud, we often use a different rhythm and pitch for nonessential adjective clauses than for essential ones. We use commas when writing nonessential adjective clauses to show the differences in our voice patterns!

Another way to identify essential and nonessential relative clauses is to try to remove the relative pronoun. If the clause still sounds okay without the relative pronoun, it's probably an essential adjective clause. If it doesn't sound right anymore, it's probably a nonessential adjective clause.

The reason why I didn't go to the party is that I wasn't invited.

Does this clause still sound natural if you take away the relative pronoun why?

The reason I didn't go to the party is that I wasn't invited.

That still sounds natural! This (plus the lack of commas) means the clause is essential.

The party, which you weren't invited to, was so much fun.

Does this clause still sound natural if you take away the relative pronoun which? Try removing it:

The party, you weren't invited to, was so much fun.

Well, the party you weren't invited to makes sense on its own, but the way one would say it with those commas doesn't sound quite right. The clause doesn't help to specify the party; instead, it refers to a party that was already specified and reminds this poor person that they weren't invited. In this context, the relative pronoun is necessary for the clause to make sense. This means that the clause is nonessential.

Try this out on your own! The next time you read something, try and pick out all of the adjectival clauses, and figure out what purposes they serve in their sentences.

Adjectival Clause - Key Takeaways

  • An adjectival clause (also called an adjective clause or relative clause) is a dependent clause that acts as an adjective.
  • Clauses can sometimes add more explanation to a noun or pronoun than a single adjective can.
  • There are two main types of adjectival clauses: essential, which specifies and restricts the noun or pronoun, and nonessential, which adds extra information about an already-specified noun or pronoun.
  • You can identify an adjectival clause in a sentence by asking yourself what the clause modifies. If it modifies a noun or pronoun, it's an adjectival clause.
  • Two tricks can help you tell essential and nonessential adjectival clauses apart: nonessential clauses are almost always surrounded by commas, and essential clauses usually sound natural even without a relative pronoun.

Adjectival Clause

An adjectival clause (also called an adjective clause or relative clause) is a dependent clause that acts as an adjective.

To find out if a clause is an adjectival clause, ask yourself which word is getting new information from the clause. in other words, which word is the clause modifying? If it modifies a noun or pronoun, it's an adjectival clause.

My old guitar, which I thought was completely broken, can actually still play nicely.


Which I thought was completely broken is an adjectival clause that adds nonessential information to the noun guitar.

There are two main types of adjectival clause:

An essential (also called restrictive) adjectival clause specifies the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

A nonessential (also called non-restrictive) adjectival clause describes the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

An adjectival clause can sometimes add more explanation to a sentence than a single adjective can. An adjectival clause can also sometimes make a sentence flow more naturally.

Final Adjectival Clause Quiz

Question

What is an adjectival clause?

Show answer

Answer

An adjectival clause (also called an adjective clause or relative clause) is a dependent clause that acts as an adjective.

Show question

Question

What is a clause?

Show answer

Answer

A clause is a meaningful group of words made up of a subject and a predicate.

Show question

Question

What is the purpose of an adjectival clause?

Show answer

Answer

An adjective clause can sometimes add more explanation to a sentence than a single adjective can. An adjective clause can also sometimes make a sentence flow more naturally.

Show question

Question

How can you find out if a clause is an adjectival clause?

Show answer

Answer

To find out if a clause is an adjectival clause, ask yourself which word is receiving new information from the clause. In other words, which word is the clause modifying? If it modifies a noun or pronoun, it's an adjectival clause.

Show question

Question

Is this clause an adjectival clause?


We tiptoed as if we were walking on eggshells.

Show answer

Answer

Yes, it's an adjectival clause

Show question

Question

Is this clause an adjectival clause?


I completely forgot the tamales I was supposed to bring.

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Answer

Yes, it's an adjectival clause

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Question

Is this clause an adjectival clause?


You know, if you bothered to read the instructions, you would know how to put the furniture together.

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Answer

Yes, it's an adjectival clause

Show question

Question

What is an essential adjectival clause?

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Answer

An essential (also called restrictive) adjectival clause specifies the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

Show question

Question

What is a nonessential adjectival clause?

Show answer

Answer

A nonessential (also called non-restrictive) adjectival clause describes the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

Show question

Question

What is a relative pronoun?

Show answer

Answer

A relative pronoun is a special pronoun that introduces a relative (adjectival) clause.

Show question

Question

How do relative pronouns help us tell essential and nonessential adjectival clauses apart?

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Answer

To find out if an adjectival clause is essential or nonessential, try to remove the relative pronoun from the beginning. If the clause still sounds okay without the relative pronoun, it's probably an essential adjective clause. If it doesn't sound right anymore, it's probably a nonessential adjective clause.

Show question

Question

How do commas help us tell essential and nonessential adjectival clauses apart?

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Answer

The easiest way to tell an essential and nonessential adjectival clause apart is by looking at the commas. A nonessential adjectival clause is almost always offset by two commas, and an essential adjectival clause is not offset by commas.

Show question

Question

Is this clause an essential or nonessential adjectival clause?


I almost spilled the chili that I cooked yesterday.

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Answer

Essential adjectival clause

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Question

Is this clause an essential or nonessential adjectival clause?


That chili, which I've been making for years, is the best chili in the world.

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Answer

Nonessential adjectival clause

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Question

Is this clause an essential or nonessential adjectival clause?


My grandmother was the person who first made that chili recipe.

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Answer

Essential adjectival clause

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