Using Relative Pronouns and Clauses
While most pronouns are replacements for nouns, relative pronouns function more like adjectives. They do so by introducing subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses are phrases within a sentence that contain the same components as the main clause, such as subjects and nouns. However, instead of forming their own sentence they serve to modify the independent clause to which they are attached.
The main relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, that, and which. Relative adverbs are: when, where, and why. The pronouns act as a link between two parts of a sentence: the independent clause and the relative clause, which describes the main clause.
Besides adding detail, relative clauses can be useful stylistically. When used properly, they allow you to combine connected ideas in the same sentence rather than breaking them down into multiple ones.
Consider the difference between the following sentences:
- That man yelled at us to get off his lawn. He did not even own the property.
- The man who yelled at us to get off his lawn did not even own the property.
Both sentences communicate the same thing, but the second does a better job of connecting the two events.
As you can see, relative clauses can be useful in streamlining your writing. Be careful not to use too many of them at once, though. Sentences will be confusing to your reader if they have clauses that are too numerous or too long. Be sure to ask yourself whether the clause actually clarifies a sentence or makes it too long and complicated.