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Adjective Clause: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Debbie Notari

An adjective clause is a group of words with a subject and verb that modifies a noun in a sentence. In this lesson, we will learn how adjective clauses work.

We also recommend watching Independent & Dependent Clauses: Subordination & Coordination and Comma Usage: Avoid Confusion in Clauses & Contrasting Sentence Parts

Definition

In order to understand an adjective clause, let's define the two words individually. An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun. A clause is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb. If the clause expresses a complete thought, then it is a complete sentence. If it doesn't, it is what we call a 'dependent clause,' as it 'depends' on the main clause of the sentence to form a complete thought. An adjective clause, then, is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb that modifies a noun in a sentence. Adjective clauses are dependent clauses.

Relative Pronouns

Adjective clauses begin with 'signal words' or 'relative pronouns.' Here is a list of the most-used relative pronouns:

which, who, whoever, whomever, that, and whose

It is important to recognize relative pronouns because they signal the beginning of adjective clauses in sentences. They also act as the actual subjects and sometimes the objects in the adjective clauses!

Rule Breakers

When we see a relative pronoun in a sentence, we know that an adjective clause is most-likely beginning. Keep in mind that, as with other grammar rules in the English language, there are often exceptions. Here is an example:

'Who is the author of the book?' The word 'who' is the subject of this sentence; it does not signal the beginning of an adjective clause. However, the word 'who' does signal the beginning of an adjective clause in the following sentence: 'Mrs. Jones, who faints easily, saw the wild mouse and screamed.' The clause 'who faints easily' is an adjective clause that modifies the proper noun, 'Mrs. Jones.'

How Adjective clauses Function

Now that we have that cleared up, let's move on to see some examples of how adjective clauses work in sentences. See if you can identify the adjective clauses in the following three sentences:

1. Pamela is the girl who won the surfing contest.

2. The black car that ran the red light got in an accident.

3. People are sometimes superstitious about black cats which are common symbols of Halloween.

Now, see how you did! Here are the correct answers:

1. who won the surfing contest (This modifies 'girl.')

2. that ran the red light (This modifies 'car.')

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