5 Common Mistakes with Adjective Clauses

I like to create short grammar reviews for upper level students. As a private instructor, I have the luxury of designing each lesson based on the student’s current needs. For example, we might have covered conditionals a few months ago, but review and reinforcement is necessary from time to time. The same may be true for a topic like adjective clauses. One lesson isn’t enough even if it’s loaded with practice. In fact, with one student I personally hadn’t addressed this topic before, but a recent writing assignment revealed some inconsistencies in usage.

Student production usually guides my choice of whether to incorporate direct grammar instruction or not. Sometimes a short reminder will suffice. Other times I know it’s worth creating an exercise to help a student learn to self-correct.

I’ve noticed some common mistakes students make with adjective clauses. Perhaps you’ve seen and heard them, too:

  1. Choosing the wrong relative pronoun. Have your students mixed up which and who? Do they know it’s okay to use that to refer to people?
  2. Forgetting the difference between identifying and non-identifying adjective clauses. Ah, those commas! I tend to leave the terminology behind and stress the importance of setting off additional or non-essential information in commas.
  3. Not knowing when the pronoun can be omitted. Again, with limited use of terminology, I explain that we like to be concise when we can, especially in conversation. Dropping an object pronoun in a clause that identifies the head noun is common. Seeing a model sentence helps more than hearing the rule: A friend is someone I (that/who) can talk to about anything.
  4. Choosing the wrong level of formality. The first objective is to form an adjective clause correctly. Eventually, we want students to understand possible variations and choose structures that are appropriate for the given context. For instance, learning to separate prepositions from object pronouns, knowing when to drop the pronoun, and understanding the preference for that over which in identifying adjective clauses can help students sound less formal when a conversational tone is exactly what they’re striving for.
  5. Not placing the relative pronoun/adjective clause directly after the head noun. This was a reoccurring mistake I recently found in one student’s writing. There was too much separation between the head nouns and adjective clauses. Revising the sentences together helped reinforce the need for close proximity.

If your students make some of these mistakes, you might find my Relative Pronouns_handout useful. The exercises focus on choosing the right pronoun and placing it appropriately. Enjoy discussing the pros and cons of social media!


Photo credit: Mistake, Error, Question Mark, Fail by Tumisu. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/mistake-error-question-mark-fail-1966448/.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi,Jennifer thanks for explain five common mistakes with adjective clauses . It’s very useful for me.You are marvelous!👌💐☺

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