An adjective clause, also known as an adjectival clause, is a type of dependent clause that works to describe a noun in a sentence. It functions as an adjective even though it is made up of a group of words instead of just one word. In the case of an adjective clause, all the words work together to modify the noun or pronoun.
All adjective clauses are dependent clauses. A dependent clause is a group of words that consists of a subject and a verb, yet it is not a complete sentence that can stand alone. Adjective clauses begin with a relative pronoun, which connects them to the word they describe, such as:
Once you remember the relative pronouns, it's very easy to pick out an adjective clause in a sentence:
Notice that each of the italicized adjective clauses begins with a relative pronoun from the list above. This connects it to the noun being described, which comes directly before the relative pronoun in the sentence.
Each adjective clause above also contains a subject and a verb, all of which work together to describe the original noun being modified. For example, the clause which many people adore contains the subject "people" and the verb "adore," yet by itself it is not a complete sentence. Instead, its job is to provide more information to describe the noun "chocolate."
In some cases, the relative pronoun also serves as the subject of the clause. For example, in the adjective clause who are smart, the relative pronoun "who" also acts as the subject that is smart.
Sometimes the information included in an adjective clause is very important to the meaning of the sentence. For cases in which the sentence wouldn't hold the same meaning without the clause, the adjective clause is called an essential clause. For example:
In this case, the adjective clause gives essential information to describe the children. If you got rid of that clause, the sentence would simply say "I don't like children," which is very different from not liking messy children who eat with their hands!
An essential adjective clause does not require any additional punctuation.
A non-essential adjective clause, on the other hand, gives extra description that is not strictly required to understand the writer's intent. For example:
In this case, the adjective clause gives extra information, but it isn't necessary to get the gist of the sentence about the cat finding a home. Non-essential adjective clauses are set off with commas to show that they aren't as strongly connected to the rest of the sentence.
Below are more examples of adjective clauses. See if you can determine which ones are essential and which are non-essential as you review them. Ask yourself, is the information necessary to the meaning of the sentence? Is punctuation required?
Adding adjective clauses to your writing is a good way to provide additional detail about the nouns and pronouns in your work. This extra description will enrich your writing and help the reader understand your message more clearly.
When you know the relative pronouns and how to distinguish between essential and non-essential clauses, you'll have no trouble identifying adjective clauses and punctuating them correctly in your writing.
And with all this talk of clauses, this may also be a good time to refresh your memory on independent and dependent clauses.