What is an Adjective Clause? Definition, Examples of Adjectival Clauses in English

Adjective clause definition: An adjective clause is a dependent clause that contains a subject and a verb. An adjective clause functions as an adjective.

What is an Adjective Clause?

What are adjective clauses? An adjective clause is a type of dependent clause that acts as an adjective in the sentence. An adjective clause will always contain a subject and a verb. However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought.

An adjective clause will always begin with one of the following words:

Relative Pronouns:

  • that
  • where
  • who
  • whom
  • which

Adjectival clause definitionRelative Adverbs:

  • when
  • where
  • why

Adjective Clause Examples:

  • The boy whom you saw at the store committed a robbery.

The adjective clause is acting as an adjective in this sentence. The adjective clause describes the boy. It contains a subject and a verb, “you saw.” However, it cannot stand alone as a complete thought. “Whom you saw at the robbery” is not a complete statement.

  • The concert attendees, who paid anywhere from $45 to $100, had to wait until the rain cleared up.

Similarly, in this adjective clause example, the adjective clause describes concert attendees.

  • Poudre Fire Authority firefighters rescued four people who were stuck in the Cache la Poudre River, on the west side of the 800 block of North College Avenue, according to a fire authority media release. –The Denver Post
  • Six of the past eight winners paid more than $2 million to dine with Buffett, the investor who leads the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate. –The Washington Post

Function of Adjective Clauses

Adjective clauses function as adjectives in a sentence in that they modify nouns. Adjective clauses are beneficial to writing in that they make writing both more concise and more descriptive.

Creating a Sentence with an Adjective Clause

complete adjectives clauses and example of adjective clauseOne function of an adjective clause is to make writing more concise. Consequently, two independent clauses can be combined to make one complete sentence.

This new sentence will contain an independent clause and a dependent clause (the adjective clause).

Two independent clauses:

  • The house is for sale. I like the house.

In order to combine these sentences, first choose which independent clause you want to remove. We will use the second sentence for this example.

Then, add a relative pronoun or relative adverb to the beginning of that phrase.

Work in progress:

  • The house is for sale. That I like the house.
    • The second sentence is not grammatically correct but is used for example purposes only.

Now, insert the fragment starting with the relative pronoun/adverb in between the subject and the verb of the first independent clause.

Work in progress:

  • The house that I like the house is for sale.

Now, in this particular sentence, “the house”, the object of the second sentence, is redundant. It needs to be removed.

Final sentence:

  • The house that I like is for sale.

The adjective clause “that I like” now combines the two original independent clauses.

The Elements of an Adjective Clause

non essential adjective clause and sentences with adjective clauseAn adjective clause has basic elements and can be easily identified with its common patterns.

Adjective Clause Elements:

  • Relative pronoun or relative adverb + subject + verb
    • The rug that I bought is yellow.
    • My great-grandma remembers when the stock market crashed.
    • That boy, who is in first grade, won the science fair.
  • Relative pronoun as subject + verb
    • This is the man who called.
    • I do not know the boy who answered.

How to Punctuate an Adjective Clause

adjetive clause and adj clausePunctuating adjective clauses: Since adjective clauses are dependent clauses, they must be connected to an independent (main) clause.

Restrictive adjective clauses (also called essential adjective clauses) do not require commas because they are necessary to understand an unspecific subject.

Example of Restrictive Adjective Clauses:

  • The girl won a prize.
    • In this sentence, the subject is unspecific. Which girl won the prize?
    • An adjective clause will add the necessary information to understand which girl.
  • The girl who sang a solo won the prize.
    • Now, with the adjective clause, the subject is more specific.

non-essential adjective clause and sentences with adjective clausesNonrestrictive adjective clauses (also called nonessential adjective clauses) require commas because they are additional information to an already specific subject. They add additional information about the subject but the precise subject is already known.

Example of Nonrestrictive Adjective Clauses:

  • Example: Mary won a prize.
    • In this sentence, the subject is specific. The audience knows which girl won the prize.
    • An adjective clause will provide additional information about Mary.
  • Mary, who sang a solo, won the prize.
    • Now, with the adjective clause, additional information is added to the sentence.

Summary: What are Adjective Clauses?

Define adjective clause: The definition of adjective clause is a group of words with a subject and verb that provide a description. Here are some of their essential features; adjective clauses,

  • are dependent clauses that cannot stand alone
  • begin with a relative pronoun or adverb
  • include a subject and a verb
  • function as adjectives