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Relative clauses

Relative Clause Relative Pronoun KS2 Year 5 Year 6 Grammar English Resources

What is a relative clause?

A relative clause is a type of subordinate clause which provides additional information about a noun or pronoun in the sentence.

This means a relative clause is a dependent clause which does not make sense by itself and must be paired with an independent clause to construct a complete sentence.

A relative clause is introduced by a relative pronoun (such as, which, whom, whom, which or that).


Examples of a relative clause

Relative clauses offer additional information about a noun in the main or 'independent' clause of the sentence. For example:


The man, who was wearing a suit, looked important.

(Here, the relative clause modifies the noun "man" and is introduced by relative pronoun "who".)


The book, which was on the table, is mine.

(Here, the relative clause modifies the noun "book" and is introduced by the relative pronoun "which".)


The city, where I was born, is beautiful.

(Here, the relative clause modifies the noun "city" and is introduced by "where".)


Where to use a relative clause?

Relative clauses can be placed in different positions within a sentence, depending on the information they provide and the emphasis the speaker or author wants to convey.

It is common for relative clauses to be found in the middle of a sentence, often accompanied by a pair of commas, dashes or brackets which demarcate the beginning and end of the clause, for example:

The cake, that my sister baked, was delicious.

(Here, the relative clause modifies the noun "cake" and is introduced by the relative pronoun "that''.)  

 

A relative clause can also be placed at the end of a sentence, for example:

Dad cooked a simple dinner of fish fingers, chips and beans which was always a popular choice in our house.

(Here, the relative clause modifies the noun "dinner" and is introduced by the relative pronoun "which'').  

or

The teacher thought her class were a kind and hard-working bunch who deserved extra playtime.

(Here, the relative clause modifies the noun "class" and is introduced by the relative pronoun "who'').  

To avoid the misconception that relative clauses can only be used in the middle of a dependent clause, make sure to offer the children examples of sentences where relative clauses appear in different positions.


When to use a relative clause?

A relative clause should be used to identify, describe, or give additional information about a noun or pronoun.

Purpose: to identify a specific person or thing:

The book, which I had been reading for hours, was finally finished.

Here, the relative clause "which I had been reading for hours" identifies a specific book.

Purpose: to to describe a noun or pronoun:

The concert, that was scheduled for next month, has been cancelled.

Here, the relative clause "that was scheduled for next month" describes the concert.

Purpose: to provide more information about a noun or pronoun:

The film, whose plot I couldn't follow, was not good at all.

Here, the relative clause "whose plot I couldn't follow" gives additional information about the film.

In general, relative clauses can be used to add more information in a sentence, make a sentence more specific, and make it more interesting.


Top teaching activities for relative clauses in KS2

Help children to embed this grammatical concept by offering plenty of examples of relative clauses which use a range of pronouns and support varied sentence structure.

Our favourite activities to help children understand how to construct and apply relative clauses in their writing include asking children to:

  1. identify which noun is being modified by the relative clause
    The clock, that had been passed down through generations, told the correct time just twice a day.
    The family couldn't wait for their holiday which they had been planning for months.
  2. identify the relative pronoun which introduces a given relative clause
    The clock, that had been passed down through generations, told the correct time just twice a day.
    The family couldn't wait for their holiday, which they had been planning for months.
  3. choose the most appropriate relative pronoun to introduce a relative clause
    The clock, _________________ had been passed down through generations, told the correct time just twice a day.
    The family couldn't wait for their holiday, _________________ they had been planning for months.
  4. underline the full relative clause in a given sentence
    The clock, that had been passed down through generations, told the correct time just twice a day.
    The family couldn't wait for their holiday, which they had been planning for months.
  5. identify whether a given relative clause can be used in different positions within a sentence
    The dragon, which is found in stories around the world, is a legendary creature.
    The dragon is a legendary creature which is found in stories around the world.
  6. create a relative clause to complete a given sentence, using a relative clause
    Marie Curie was a Polish-born physicist.
    Marie Curie was a Polish-born physicist who conducted pioneering research in the field of radioactivity.
    Marie Curie, who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, was a Polish-born physicist.

Once children have understood the concept of relative clauses, they should be encouraged to explore and use this concept in the grammar of their own speech and writing, and to note where it is used by others:

  • Can children spot where relative clauses are used in the texts that they read?
  • Can they see and hear the difference between relative clauses used in different genres of writing?
  • Where will they choose to use relative clauses in their own writing?

Why are children taught about relative clauses in KS2?

Children are taught the basics of sentence structure in KS1, including how to use co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions to connect clauses and make sentences more interesting.

From Year 3, children learn how to identify different types of clauses, such as independent and dependent clauses, and how they are used to form different types of sentences, such as simple, compound, and complex sentences.

By Year 5, children are introduced to relative clauses and relative pronouns to help them understand why these language choices are made by authors as well as when to use these within their own writing.

Understanding how relative clauses work can aid children's comprehension of a text as it enables them to identify what noun or pronoun is modified within the sentence. Without this additional information, a sentence may be unclear or incomplete, making it more difficult for the reader or listener to understand the intended meaning.

Relative clauses can make sentences more interesting and engaging, by providing more details, background information, and context. This can help keep the reader or listener engaged and interested.


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