Grammar Lesson: The Adjective Clause

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Dec 14, 2010

An adjective clause (a group of words with at least one subject and one verb) is a subordinate or dependent clause that functions as an adjective. This type of clause answers the question, Which one? Relative pronouns, such as who, whom, which, and that, begin adjective clauses. At times, words such as where or when can also begin adjective clauses. If you delete the adjective clause from a sentence, you will still have a full (though less informative) sentence.

In the following sentences, the adjective clause is underlined. Notice the word that begins the clause.

    This extremely intelligent geologist, who is also a talented juggler, has been asked to visit the State Assembly later this month.
    The street that you live on is scheduled to be repaved next month.
    The movie director, whom you read about last week, will be promoting her new film throughout Europe.

There are essentially two types of adjective clauses—restrictive and unrestrictive clauses.

  • A restrictive (or essential) adjective clause offers essential information that is necessary to complete the sentence's thought. An example of this is, ''The trophy that was presented to you is enormous.'' Here, the adjective clause that was presented to you restricts the information to just that trophy.
  • An unrestrictive (or nonessential) clause simply offers more information about the noun it describes. In the sentence, ''The trophy, which was made in Canada, was presented to you,'' the adjective clause which was made in Canada is nonessential to the sentence. It just offers more information about the trophy.

Activity- Recognizing Adjective Clauses

Underline the adjective clause in each sentence. Then circle the relative pronoun. Finally, draw a line from the relative pronoun to the word (or words) that the clause modifies.

  1. Will this be the only instrument that you will play tonight?
  2. This next batter, who has sixteen home runs, is only twenty years old.
  3. The motorcycle that your dad purchased should be cleaned often.
  4. Our former college president for whom this award has been named will be in attendance this evening.
  5. Have the answers that you submitted been reviewed yet?
  6. Miguel, who won last year's contest, is seeded first in this year's competition.
  7. This is the exact spot where the hide-and-seek game began last night.
  8. Some films, which I have not watched, were made in black and white.
  9. This is the hour when most people should be getting ready for bed.
  10. A few graduates whom I have already contacted will help with the reunion.
  11. Doctor Gavigan, who is a very competent podiatrist, practices in New England.
  12. These proposals that the committee has questioned will be discussed again at next month's meeting.
  13. A word that has an interesting origin is curfew.
  14. Those who chose to leave the session can get the information next time.
  15. The only person to whom I have told this personal information is you.


(The adjective clause is listed first, the relative pronoun second, and the word that is being described by the relative pronoun last.)

  1. that you will play tonight—that—instrument
  2. who has sixteen home runs—who—batter
  3. that your dad purchased—that—motorcycle
  4. for whom this award has been named—whom—president
  5. that you submitted—that—answers
  6. who won last year's contest—who—Miguel
  7. where the hide-and-seek game began last night—where—spot
  8. which I have not watched—which—films
  9. when most people should be getting ready for bed—when—hour
  10. whom I have already contacted—whom—graduates
  11. who is a very competent podiatrist—who—Dr. Gavigan
  12. that the committee has questioned—that—proposals
  13. that has an interesting origin—that—word
  14. who chose to leave the session—who—Those
  15. to whom I have told this personal information—whom—person
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