Restrictive Clause: Examples & Overview

Instructor: Debbie Notari
In this lesson, we will define and explore the functions of the restrictive clause. Restrictive clauses provide specific and necessary information in a sentence and clarify essential details that help improve sentence meaning.


Before we launch into the definition of a restrictive clause, let's break it down a bit and look at the word 'clause.' A clause is a group of words that has both a subject and a verb. So, a complete sentence may also be called a clause. However, when we look at the restrictive clause, we know that, by virtue of its title, this clause 'restricts' something else in the sentence.

The restrictive clause begins with the word 'that' in a sentence, and it provides specific, additional information that changes the meaning of the sentence. It restricts the word it modifies with the specific details it provides. The restrictive clause changes the sentence's meaning.

How Does it Modify?

The word 'modify' means to 'change.' In this case, when a word modifies another word, it adds additional information that changes our impression of the word. It also provides additional descriptive details so that we better understand the word. On a very basic level, think of the word 'truck.' If we say 'the red truck,' we suddenly have a whole different picture of what the truck looks like. The word 'red' modifies 'truck.' In the same way, the whole restrictive clause modifies a noun, generally the subject, in a sentence.


For instance, we might say, 'The girl crossed the street.' Right now, this is a less-than-specific sentence with very few restrictions. Suppose we say, 'The girl that got in the fight after school crossed the street.' Now we have used a restrictive clause. Here's how: The restrictive clause is 'that got in the fight.' We know that this girl is a very specific fighting girl. She is THAT girl who got in the fight after school. THAT girl crossed the street. The restrictive clause limits the meaning of 'the girl' to the specific girl who got in the fight.

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