What is a relative clause? Relative clauses are a type of subordinate clause that provide extra information about nouns and pronouns in a sentence.

You can spot relative clauses as they always start with a relative pronoun.  Examples of relative pronouns include:

  • that, who, which, whose, whom.

Notice below how a relative clause can join two sentences together:

  • The children all did well in the maths test. This made their teacher very proud.
  • The children all did well in the maths test, which made their teacher very proud.

‘Which’ is the relative pronoun, so in this example, the relative clause is after the main clause.

The main clause in this sentence is ‘The children all did well in the maths test’, it is called the main clause because it could stand alone as a complete sentence (like in the first example above).

However, when a relative clause is used to add extra information to the main clause, we remove the full stop and replace it with a comma.

As the relative pronoun is giving us more information about the noun (‘test’), they are positioned together in the sentence.

Not all relative clauses are placed after the main clause, sometimes they can be in the middle of the main clause. For example:

  • The dog, whose name is Barney, loves to chase cats.

This is an example of an embedded relative clause, as it is placed within the main clause. It is still important to separate the relative clause from the main clause by using commas before and after it.

When do children learn about relative clauses?

Teachers will introduce children to what relative clauses are around Year 5 and they will be shown how to correctly use them in their writing.

This should be building on the knowledge that children already have of clauses and subordinate clauses, which they are taught about in Year 2.

How to help children with relative clauses?

Children will be encouraged by their teachers to identify when relative clauses are used in sentences and books they are reading in class.

To help them practice using relative clauses in their writing, teachers might provide children will two sentences and ask them to rewrite them as one sentence using a relative clause. For example:

  • Laura was going to a superhero themed party. She was dressed as Spiderman.

These sentences could be joined to make:

  • Laura, who was dressed as Spiderman, was going to a superhero themed party.
  • Laura, who was going to a superhero themed party, was dressed as Spiderman.

Both these sentences are examples of an embedded relative clause.

How does Learning Street help children with relative clauses?

Learning Street, through our innovative guided courses, helps children to establish a secure knowledge of relative clauses. We do this through our introduction, extension, revision process.

Where books often fall down is that they may well cover relative clauses but they fail to build in ongoing knowledge development and revision and without this children cannot develop a secure knowledge.

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