Identifying relative clauses

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Some relative clauses identify or classify nouns: they tell us which person or thing, or which kind of person or thing, is meant. These are called identifying, defining or restrictive relative clauses.

Consider the example given below.

Here the relative clause is who take physical exercise. This relative clause is identifying, since it is required for identification: without it, we would have only People live longer, which does not identify the people under discussion.

Other examples are given below.

Identifying relative clauses usually follow immediately after the nouns that they modify, without a break: they are not separated by commas in writing. This is because the noun would be incomplete without the relative clause, and the sentence would make no sense or have a different meaning.

A non-defining relative clause is not required for identification. It serves only to provide additional information. Non-identifying clauses are normally separated by commas.

Here the relative clause is who does my hair. This relative clause is non-identifying, since it is not required to identify Janet: it merely provides additional information.

Another example is given below.


That is common as a relative pronoun in identifying clauses. It can refer to things and in an informal style to people.

In non-identifying clauses, that is unusual.

In identifying relative clauses, we often leave out object pronouns. In non-identifying clauses this is not possible.

Sections in this article

Parts of speech
Identifying verbs
Identifying nouns
Identifying adjectives
Identifying adverbs
Identifying prepositions
Identifying conjunctions