A Complete Guide to Adjective Clause (Examples Sentences)

What is an Adjective Clause?

Characteristics of an Adjective Clause

An adjective clause is also known as relative or adjectival clause and has three main characteristics:

  1. It contains a verb and a subject
  2. It starts with a relative adverb like why, where or when or a relative pronoun such as which, whom, that, who or whose.
  3. It appears like an adjective where it answers questions like “Which one?” “How many?” or “What kind?”

adjective clause, adjective clause examples

Adjective Clause Patterns

The following patterns are applied to the adjective clause:

  • Relative pronoun (the subject) + Verb
  • Adverb/Relative pronoun + Subject + Verb

Examples of Adjective Clause

Here are some of the examples that can help in understanding adjective clause better. Whose small, black eyes yearned for another chocolate In this example: “Whose” is the relative pronoun, “Eyes” are the subject while “Yearned” is the verb. Why George cannot stand sitting away from his brother Fred In this example: “Why” is the relative adverb, “George” is the subject and “Can stand” is the verb.

Adjective Clause

An adjective is a part of speech that describes or in a modern sense modifies a noun. And we are aware of the fact that a clause is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb so an adjective clause would be a group of words consisting of a subject and a verb that would further modify a noun in any given sentence. It also modifies a pronoun in a given clause. It may also be known as adjectival clause or a relative clause because a noun or a pronoun relates to them. Adjective clause begins with the words like whom, whose, who, that or which known as relative pronoun or why, what, when, known as relative adverb. The adjective clause will function as an adjective and would answer the questions such as which one? and how many? The underlined words would represent the adjective clause. These clauses may consist of the use commas as well providing more information into a given sentence.

  1. The television which you bought the last month is not in a working condition.
  2. The movie which you recommended to me was so damn scary.
  3. He is a kind of person who never stops talking.
  4. A pastry, which is not very tasty, is not very healthy.
  5. The students whose names appear to be the on the list are the ones who got selected for the game.
  6. My mother remembers the old days when there was no calculator.
  7. Students who get good marks in the GATT test may appear in the entry test examination.
  8. I don’t really like the cars that make noise.
  9. I could tell you the main reason why she did not want to come to the party.
  10. Never visit a friend whose intentions are not good towards people.

Many adjective clauses may be converted into adjective phrases by simply omitting the subject pronoun and shorten the length of the sentence.

For example,

 Adjective clause: The girl who is singing is my friend.

Adjective phrase: The girl singing is my friend.

Limits to the Number of Clauses

As there is no set limit for the number of relative or co-ordinate clauses, there are an infinite number of these which can be used in grammar. However, practically no one will use them indefinitely or prefer long sentences. There are cases where relative clauses are embedded within other similar clauses. This increases the amount of unacceptability. However, generative grammar might identify it as inappropriate in terms of handling so many terms grammatically.

Comparing Acceptability of Relative Clauses

The following three examples are compared in terms of acceptability:

  1. The man who(m) the officer questioned lives near my home and is a relative of mine.
  2. The man who(m) the officer who(m) the detective identified questioned lives near my home and is a relative of mine.
  3. The man who(m) the officer who(m) the detective who(m) I saw identified questioned lives near my home and is a relative of mine.

The first example shows only one relative clause used in the sentence which makes it acceptable grammatically. But, the third example shows three relative clauses used in a single sentence which makes it confusing and unacceptable grammatically.

Adverbs and Relative Clauses

W/i- adverbs is a very significant category of adverbs. It is named this way due to the fact that majority of them are written with a wh- in the beginning. There are some exceptions like how and the compounds like however. A number of them introduce relative clauses like why, where, when, whereupon, whence, whereby and wherein.

 Examples of Adverbs with Relative Clauses

Following are some of the examples to show the use of adverbs with relative clauses:

  • His grandfather was in plastics business in Africa at a time when it was increasing very quickly.
  • The best bread was perhaps at the bakery near the town where we were living because it was their original recipe.
  • The reason why Halloween revived as a festival is due to its large amount of advertising in the kid’s marketplace.

In the above examples when, why and where have been used as w/i-adverbs with nominal relative clauses.

Relative Clauses with Pronouns

In Standard English, when we are using third person, those is used. However, in non standard dialects them and they are used as pronouns for third person. A few times the personal pronouns are changed by the relative clauses. Look at this example: And we who should have been in a better state than the rest to be able to receive any food have sent some food. In other cases for the first and second person plural mainly, the changes are brought by the adjectives in exclamatory phases like poor you. Modifications are also the result of prepositional phrases like you at the back or adverbs like we here. Neither the adjectives nor the relative clauses modify they and it.

Relative Clauses with Nouns

One more kind of existential sentence is where a relative clause is followed by a noun phrase. Relative clauses are constructed here by determiners and relative pronouns which modify the nouns later. Usually they appear in the start of the relative clauses.

Examples of Relative Clauses with Nouns

Following are some examples of this: Oh God, I went to have lunch with this boy called Ben who’s on my course. Basically there are three w/t-relative pronouns: which, whom and who. Also there are two wtf-determiners: which and whose. Relative clauses might be recognized by the relative pronoun that which is often excluded. In this case the relative is known as zero relative pronoun.

This is similar to the interrogative pronouns whom and who that are different in the case where whom is objective and who is subjective. Also, with interrogative pronouns usually who is used for object functions apart from the formal sentences where whom is used in its place. Look at this example: There is a gang known as The Pirates who I saw at the Museum. I would not want to stay with a person who I had no acquaintance with. 

Nominal Relative Pronouns

You can identify nominal relative clauses by nominal relatives. Both are alike because they function similar to noun phrases as direct object, subject and more. Following is a list of twelve nominal relative pronouns:

  1. Who
  2. Whom
  3. Whoever
  4. Whomever
  5. Whosoever
  6. Whomsoever
  7. Which
  8. Whichever
  9. Whichsoever
  10. What
  11. Whatever
  12. Whatsoever

References and Further Readings

Sidney, G. (1996). The Oxford English Grammar. Sidney Greenbaum–New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

Thurman, S., & Shea, L. (2003). The only grammar book you’ll ever need: A one-stop source for every writing assignment. Adams Media. Chicago

Maggio, R. (2009). How to say it: choice words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs for every situation. Penguin.