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Definition and Examples to Understand the Adjective Clause

Adjective Clause: Definition and Examples
An adjective clause modifies the noun in the main clause and appears right after it in a sentence. Penlighten will give you a brief definition of the adjective clause along with some examples.
Buzzle Staff
Last Updated: Dec 15, 2018
A Quick Summary
  • A clause is a group of words.
  • An adjective describes nouns and pronouns.
  • An adjective clause cannot stand alone.
A clause is a group of words carrying some meaning. However, it does not make complete sense most of the time, unless it is dependent on another phrase or clause. To elaborate, there are independent clauses which can stand on their own as a meaningful sentence, and there are dependent clauses which have to depend on the independent clause to give them some identity.
These are also called subordinate clauses. They can be mainly classified as noun, adjective, and adverb clauses. Here, you will learn what is an adjective clause and some examples of the same.
  • An adjective clause is a subordinate clause that modifies the noun in the main clause.
  • It includes a subject and a verb, which is why, it is a clause and not a phrase.
  • It usually appears after the noun.
  • Thus, it acts like an adjective, giving more information about the function of the noun in the sentence.
  • An adjective clause always starts with a relative pronoun or a relative adverb.
  • It has a subject and verb.
  • It is the answer to the question asked to the noun.
Coordinating Relative Pronouns and Adverbs
Relative pronouns help establish a relation between the clause and the rest of the sentence. The ones that are used in the adjective clause are:
  • That
  • Which
  • Who
  • Whom
  • Whose
Sometimes, time relative clauses are introduced by relative adverbs, like:
  • Why
  • Where
  • When
Essential Rules To Remember
  • The relative pronoun can sometimes be omitted.
  • If the clause compulsorily answers the question in the main clause, i.e., if it is definitely required to identify the noun, it is called a restrictive clause. In this case, you do not need to use commas.
  • If the clause just provides extra information, i.e., if it is not necessarily required to identify the noun, it is called a non-restrictive clause. In this case, you need to use commas.
  • Since the noun is either a subject or object, the adjective clause (relative pronoun or relative adverb) will always modify the subject or object.
List of Examples
✔ The dog that I saw yesterday was a mongrel.

'That I saw yesterday' is the clause that explains more about the dog. If you ask the question, 'Which?' to the main clause, you will find the answer in this adjective clause. It is used for living and non-living things in place of the subject or object.
✔ My friend, who has green eyes, won the competition.

Main clause: My friend won the competition.
Adjective Clause: who has green eyes.

Ask, 'Which friend?' to the main clause. The answer is, 'the one who has green eyes'. It is used to describe the subject in the main clause.
✔ The toys, which are missing, are not really expensive.

'which are missing' modifies 'toys'. It is used exclusively for things and animals in place of the subject or object.
✔ John, whom Annabelle met yesterday, is a technician.

Remember that 'whom' is always used for humans when they are placed as the object in the sentence.
✔ The man, whose sister is a blond, is waiting outside.

The clause, 'whose sister is blond', gives information about the man waiting outside. Like 'that', 'whose' is also used for living and non-living things in place of the subject and object, and it is used to indicate possession.
✔ This is the ground where I played as a kid.

Here, 'where' is a relative adverb that describes the place. It cannot be a subject.
✔ Today is the day when the maid normally arrives.

'when' here describes the time when the maid arrives. It can be omitted sometimes though.

✔This is the reason why I do not have fruits after lunch.

In this case also, the 'why' can be omitted. It modifies 'reason' in the main clause.
✔ The chocolates which you ate yesterday are the ones Daddy bought from Belgium.
The chocolates you ate yesterday are the ones Daddy bought from Belgium.

In the first sentence, the relative pronoun is 'which' and the clause is 'which you ate yesterday'. The sentence, however, makes complete sense even without the relative pronoun and thus it can be omitted.
✔ People who cannot handle excess alcohol should not drink.

The clause 'who cannot handle alcohol' is a restrictive clause. That is why we have not used any commas here. The clause is absolutely necessary for the noun in the main clause.
✔ Susan, who cannot handle excess alcohol, should not have gotten drunk at the party.

In this case, 'who cannot handle excess alcohol' is a Non-restrictive clause. Therefore, we have used commas to separate the fragments. Also, the clause is not important as it just gives some extra information about Susan. Also, Non-restrictive clauses never have a 'that'.
✔ The boy, who is running alongside the beach, is my brother.
The boy running alongside the beach is my brother.

An adjective clause can be changed into a phrase by omitting the subject pronoun and the verb, or replacing the verb with its 'ing' form. Here, the pronoun and verb have been omitted.
Clauses are a very interesting fragment of English grammar. They form compound and complex sentences. In adjective clauses, you can also use 'how' as a relative adverb. They are fairly simple to understand and use. The only point you need to remember is how they modify the noun.