Verb Review #6: Adjectival Clauses

By Maeve Maddox

Clauses function as one of three parts of speech: adverb, adjective, or noun. This review is about adjectival clauses (also called “adjective clauses”).

Adjective clauses are a little more difficult to identify than adverb clauses.

An adverb clause is introduced by a subordinating conjunction whose only function is to link the adverb clause to the main thought.

An adjective clause is introduced by a relative pronoun that:

  1. links the adjective clause to the main clause.
  2. stands for a noun in the main clause.
  3. functions as part of the subordinate clause.

For example:

The police arrested the man who was lurking in the shrubbery.

The adjective clause is who was lurking in the shrubbery. The clause describes the noun man in the main clause.

The relative pronoun who does the following:

  1. It links the subordinate clause (who was lurking in the shrubbery) to the main clause (The police arrested the man).
  2. It stands for the noun man in the main clause.
  3. It functions as the subject of the verb was lurking in the subordinate clause.

Words used to introduce adjective clauses are: who, whom, whose, which, and that. For example:

Alfred the Great is the English king whom I most admire.

George Eliot is a Victorian novelist whose works I reread on a regular basis.

The painting, which was created in 1875, lay hidden for more than a hundred years.

Charles wants to buy the old office building that has been slated for demolition.

Because the object form whom is no longer understood by many speakers, it is often used in error to introduce a clause that should be introduced by who. For example:

Incorrect: The principal gave the award to the girl whom, as we later learned, is his daughter.
Correct : The principal gave the award to the girl who, as we later learned, is his daughter.

The adjective clause is who is his daughter. Who is the subject of is.

Related posts:
Which and That to Introduce Clauses
Who vs. Whom

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2 Responses to “Verb Review #6: Adjectival Clauses”

  • Andy Knoedler

    While your explanation of an adjectival clause makes literal sense, it may not resonate with the knowledge and needs of someone who is learning the language. When teaching, I prefer to fix attention on the functional importance of such a clause: it is telling us more about a person or a thing.

    In your example, the adjectival clause specifies which man the police caught. It provides more information about that person. We can imagine other similar sentences where the arrestee was the man “who had tried to run away” or “who had stolen the car.”

  • PreciseEdit

    Simply put, an adjective clause
    1. Contains a finite verb, which makes it a clause, and
    2. Describes a noun, which makes it function as an adjective.

    I think they are easier to identify than adverb clauses because adjectives only do one thing: describe nouns.

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