Dan, who is an excellent teacher of English, has a handful of tips to help you learn and use non-defining relative clauses. Learn them, love them and they'll never let you down!


Hi Guys! Dan for BBC Learning English here. This time we're going to be taking a look at non-defining relative clauses and why they are awesome! Are you ready? Here we go.

Number 1 – they're free. How cool is that? They are like the free toothpaste you get given when you go to a shop and buy a toothbrush. You don’t need it, but everybody likes something for free. What’s even cooler is, if you don’t want it, you can remove it and the main information from the sentence is the same.

Number 2 - you can always identify them! Unlike sneaky defining relative clauses, non-defining relative clauses are always marked with commas next to the noun which they describe. When being spoken, the intonation pattern of the sentence changes to show where the clause is. For example, 'The pens which I left on the table were stolen.' 'The pens, which I left on the table, were stolen.'

Number 3 - they are proud. Unlike shameful defining relative clauses, which can hide their relative pronoun or use ‘that’, non-defining relative clauses always use the correct relative pronoun - who for people and which for objects. AND they never omit them.

Number 4 - they can count! Non-defining relative clauses are able to quantify a noun, even if the main clause doesn’t. They can be used with determiners such as many, some, all, a few, half etc. This allows us to comment on part of a group rather than all or nothing – like defining relative clauses. 'The pens, many of which I left on the table, were stolen.'

Number 5 - they care about our opinion! Non-defining relative clauses are not only able comment on a noun within a sentence, but allow us to make a comment on the whole sentence itself. This is used to communicate the speaker’s opinion about the events they’ve just mentioned. 'The pens, which I left on the table, were stolen, which surprised me.'

Aren't they cool? Learn them, love them and they'll never let you down. Non-defining relative clauses – a speaker's best friend.