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Defining / Non-defining relative clauses

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Compare the sentences below. How do they differ?
1a Jane is the girl (who) I told you about.
1b Jane, who is probably the brainiest girl in our class, got another A in a test!
2a The car (that/which) John has just bought doesn’t look reliable.
2b John’s car, which he has had for ages, breaks down very often.

Now look at the grammar explanations. Were your guesses correct?

These clauses give essential information to define or identify the person or thing we are talking about.
Young boys who marry much older women are very rare.

Punctuation Commas are not used in defining relative clauses.

Relative pronouns in defining clauses Person Thing Place Time Reason Subject who/that which/that Object who/whom/that/ø which/that/ø where when why Possessive whose whose

Notes: 1. The relative pronoun can be omitted (ø) when it is the object of the clause: The girl that John loved was very beautiful. OR The girl John loved was very beautiful. 2. Whose is used for things as well as for people: The man whose car was stolen. A tree whose leaves have fallen. 3. Whom is very formal and is only used in written English. You can use who/that, or omit the pronoun completely: The doctor whom/who/that/ø I wanted to see wasn't at the hospital. 4. That normally follows words like something, anything, everything, nothing, all, and superlatives: There's something that you should know. It was the best film that I've ever seen.

NON-DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSES The information in these clauses tells us more about someone or something, but is not essential to identify them or it. Compare: 1. Elephants that love mice are very unusual. (This tells us which elephants we are talking about). 2. Elephants, which are large and grey, can sometimes be found in zoos. (This gives us some extra information about elephants - we are talking about all elephants, not just one type or group).

Punctuation Non-defining relative clauses are always separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

Relative pronouns in non-defining clauses Person Thing Place Subject who which Object who/whom which where Possessive whose

Notes: 1. In non-defining clauses, you cannot use that instead of who, whom or which. 2. You cannot leave out the relative pronoun, even when it is the object of the verb in the relative clause: He gave me the letter, which I read immediately. 3. The preposition in these clauses can go at the end of the clause: This is Stratford-on-Avon, which you have all heard about. 4. Non-defining clauses can be introduced by expressions like all of, many of, none of, two of, etc. + relative pronoun: There were a lot of people at the party, many of whom I had known for years. He was carrying his belongings, many of which were broken. 5. The relative pronoun which at the beginning of a non-defining relative clause can refer to all the information contained in the previous part of the sentence, rather than to just one word. Chris did really well in his exams, which was a big surprise.

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