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RELATIVE (ADJECTIVE) CLAUSES


An adjective clause is a subordinate, or dependent, clause. A subordinate clause, like the independent clause, contains both a subject and a verb; however, a subordinate clause by itself does not express a complete thought. Consequently, the subordinate clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence, i.e., it is not an independent clause. The entire subordinate adjective clause functions within a sentence just like a single-word adjective. Like a single-word adjective, an adjective clause modifies a noun or a pronoun.


RELATIVE PRONOUNS INTRODUCE ADJECTIVE CLAUSES


An adjective clause is frequently introduced by a relative pronoun. A clause introduced by a relative pronoun is always a subordinate adjective clause. In fact, you can be certain that any clause introduced by a relative pronoun is a subordinate clause. In the following examples, adjective clauses appear in accentuated text; the noun or pronoun modified is underlined.

Prisoners who refuse to obey will be shot.

(In this example, the subordinate adjective clause is introduced by the relative pronoun who. Additionally, the clause answers the question which ones? regarding the noun prisoners.)


You should buy a wristwatch that keeps better time.

(Introduced by a relative pronoun, the clause is surely a subordinate adjective clause. Additionally, the adjective clause answers what kind of? regarding the noun it modifies, which is wristwatch.)


Jenna had two childhood friends, both of whom died of cancer.

(The adjective clause answers the question how many? regarding the noun friends. Note: adjective clauses answering how many? are frequently set off with commas because the material contained within the clause is very often parenthetical.)


We moved to my old neighborhood, where I grew up.

(The adjective clause answers which one? regarding the noun neighborhood. Note that where is a relative adverb introducing the adjective clause. See below for more regarding relative adverbs.)

ELLIPTICAL RELATIVE PRONOUNS

The relative pronoun introducing a subordinate adjective clause may be omitted from the clause when the relative pronoun does not function as the subject of the clause. In these constructions of omission, the pronoun is understood to be in the clause though it is not physically present. However, when the relative pronoun functions as the subject of the subordinate adjective clause, it may not be omitted from the clause. Its presence is necessary to serve as subject of the clause.

Whether to introduce a subordinate adjective clause using a relative pronoun has other considerations, too. Examples of elliptical relative pronouns follow, with pronouns in brackets to indicate their omission.


The things [that] we know best are the things [that] we were not taught.

(The example contains two subordinate adjective clauses. The subjects of both clauses are the pronouns we. Since both clauses have the pronoun we as subject, the relative pronouns that may be omitted from the clauses, i.e., the relative pronouns are not required to function as subject of the clauses.)


Now is the time [that] Frank must go.

(The noun Frank is the subject of the clause; therefore, the relative pronoun that may be omitted from the clause.)


The locker that was beside my desk has been moved.

(The relative pronoun cannot be omitted from the clause. Its presence is necessary to function as the subject of the subordinate adjective clause.)


This is the place [where] I was born.

(The pronoun I is the subject of the clause; therefore, the relative adverb where may be omitted.)


Will the runner who came in last please step forward.

(Because it functions as the subject of the clause, the pronoun, who, cannot be omitted.)


POSITION OF ADJECTIVE CLAUSE (Follows the Noun or Pronoun)


A subordinate adjective clause always directly follows the noun or pronoun it modifies. (Note the position of single-word adjectives vs that of adjective clauses.)



The puzzle that we couldn't solve . . . (Which one?)


Ships that carry men's dreams across the oceans . . . (What kind of?)


Our grandchildren, seven in all . . . (How many?)


RELATIVE ADVERBS

A relative adverb introduces a subordinate adjective clause. Occasionally a subordinate adjective clause is introduced by a relative adverb: where, when, or why. The word relative within the context of grammar describes a word that refers or relates to another word or phrase within a sentence. This word or phrase of reference is called the antecedent. A relative adverb introduces a subordinate adjective clause which modifies an antecedent noun or pronoun located in the main sentence clause. Although the entire clause introduced by a relative adverb is adjectival, and functions to modify a noun or pronoun in the main sentence clause, the relative adverb itself modifies a verb within its own clause.

Choosing which relative adverb to introduce a subordinate adjective clause is determined by the noun or pronoun antecedent.


To modify a noun of place (space): where
To modify a noun of time (duration): when
To modify a noun of reason (cause and/or effect): why



The office is the place where you waste most of your life.

(The relative adverb where modifies the verb waste, making it adverbial; but the entire clause where you waste most of your life modifies the noun place.)


These are the times when Joan lost her initiative.

(The relative adverb when modifies the verb lost, making it adverbial; but the entire clause when Joan lost her initiative modifies the noun times.)


That is the reason why Mark refused to come.

(The relative adverb why modifies the verb refused, making it adverbial; but the entire clause why Mark refused to come modifies the noun reason.)

I wondered why she refused the invitation.

(In this example, the adjective clause, introduced by the relative adverb why, does not have an antecedent noun or pronoun. These kind of constructions are not common.)

ELLIPICAL RELATIVE ADVERBS

Sometimes a relative adverb is omitted from the relative clause. In these constructions of omission, the relative adverb is understood to be in the clause though it is not physically present. Omitting the relative adverb often creates a stronger, more direct, statement; for this reason, many writers prefer omission.


The office is the place where you waste most of your life.

These are the times when Joan lost her initiative.

Do you know the reason why Susan left so suddenly?


HOW TO DETERMINE THE SUBJECT & OBJECT OF A CLAUSE



The Subject

To determine the subject of a clause, ask what? or who? and insert the verb. Don't get confused if the answer is an echo. In the following examples, adjective clauses appear in accentuated text.


We often forgive the people who bore us.

(What or who bore? The answer is who. The pronoun who is the subject of the adjective clause.)


The boxes they packed last Monday have mysteriously vanished!

(What or who packed? They packed. The pronoun they is the subject of the adjective clause.)


The Object

To determine the object of a clause, read the subject and verb and then ask what? or whom? Be prepared for a possible echo.


We seldom forgive those whom we bore.

(We bore what or whom? The answer is whom. The pronoun whom is the object of the verb bore in the adjective clause.)


I cannot think of a defense that will vindicate her.

(That will vindicate what or whom? Her is the answer. The pronoun her is the object of the verb phrase will vindicate.)


Devan fell off the roof of the barn father and I had built last summer.

(Be aware that what and whom are not foolproof tests for a direct object. In this example, the verb in the adjective clause does not contain an object. The phrase last summer is an adverb phrase. Adverbs will never function as an object.)


Usage Note
The grammatical parts of an adjective clause are often arranged in the same order as they are in sentences: Subject / Verb / Object or Complement.

We often forgive the people who bore us.



However, the object or complement may sometimes appear before the subject and verb: Object or Complement / Subject / Verb.

We rarely forgive those whom we bore.



ADJECTIVE PHRASE

A phrase consists of a minimum of two words. The prepositional phrase, the participle phrase, and the infinitive phrase frequently function as adjectives. A phrase, like the subordinate clause, is a subordinate group of words that functions together as a single part of speech. Phrases, however, do not contain both a subject and a verb, whereas clauses do. Like the subordinate clause, phrases cannot stand alone.



Prepositional Phrase as Adjective

A prepositional phrase that modifies a noun or a pronoun is an adjective phrase.


The rooms of the house

Some of the rocks

The books on the table




Participle Phrase as Adjective

A participle is a verbal that functions as an adjective. A participle modifies a noun or a pronoun. A participle phrase consists of a participle followed by any complements and/or modifiers.


Buffeted by the storm, the ship drifted off course.

The barking dog, chained to the tree, appears vicious.

We could see the squirrel sitting three branches away.




Infinitive Phrase as Adjective

An infinitive is a verbal that can function as an adjective (among other parts of speech). When an infinitive functions as an adjective, it modifies a noun or a pronoun. The infinitive phrase is composed of the infinitive followed by any complements and/or modifiers.


The candidate to elect is Will Peterson.

Travis should be the one to go shopping.

I have a decision to make before evening.




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