Adjective Clauses: Paint by Numbers

Here's another type of clause: the adjective clause. Like adverb clauses, adjective clauses are of the dependent variety.

Adjective clauses describe nouns and pronouns. They add detail to sentences by functioning as adjectives. Obviously, you can tell an adjective clause by its function, but there's also another little clue: Most adjective clauses start with the pronouns who, whom, whose, which, that, when, or where. Adjective clauses that begin with one of the relative pronouns are also called relative clauses.

Here are some other pronouns that can start an adjective clause:

  • Whoever
  • Whomever
  • Whichever
  • What
  • Whatever
  • Why
You Could Look It Up

Adjective clauses describe nouns and pronouns.

You can identify an adjective clause because it answers the adjective questions: “Which one?” or “What kind?”

Here are some examples of adjective clauses:

  • The only one of the seven dwarfs who does not have a beard is Dopey.
  • The adjective clause “who does not have a beard” describes the noun “one.”
Danger, Will Robinson

Place an adjective clause as close as possible to the word it describes or risk driving your readers mad with confusion.

  • I found a quiet, secluded place where we can meet.
  • The adjective clause “where we can meet” describes the noun “place.”
  • It never rains on days when my garden needs watering.
  • The adjective clause “when my garden needs watering” describes the noun “days.”

Relative Clauses: It's All Relative

Adjective clauses that begin with one of the relative pronouns are also called relative clauses. Here are the relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, and that.

As you learned in Parts of Speech, relative pronouns connect (or “relate”—get it?) an adjective clause to the word the clause describes. In addition, relative pronouns function within the clause as an adjective, subject, direct object, or object of a preposition. For instance:

Strictly Speaking

Remember to use who, whom (and all variations such as whoever and whomever) to refer to people. Reserve which and that if the antecedent is a thing or an animal.

  1. Relative pronoun as an adjective:
    • The boy whose book I borrowed is very hunky.
    • The relative clause “whose book I borrowed” describes the noun “boy.”
  2. Relative pronoun as a subject:
    • The bird that is soaring in the sky is a seagull.
    • The relative clause “that is soaring in the sky” functions as a subject.
  3. Relative pronoun as a direct object:
    • The book that you panned is really very good.
    • The relative clause “that you panned” is the direct object of the subject “you.”
  4. Relative pronoun as the object of a preposition:
    • The woman of whom you spoke is my boss.
    • The relative clause “whom you spoke” is the object of the preposition “of.”

Clauses Make the Sentence

As with adverb clauses, you can use adjective clauses to link ideas, combine information, and create more effective sentences. In addition to adding description to sentences, adjective clauses allow you to create relationships between ideas. Here's an example:

Two sentences: “Rock Around the Clock” was released by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955. “Rock Around the Clock” is often called the first big rock-and-roll hit.

One sentence: “Rock Around the Clock,” which is often called the first big rock-and-roll hit, was released by Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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