Article »

defining clause

This article is about defining clause — enjoy your reading!

The great grammarian Henry Fowler coined this term to refer to a restrictive clause. A defining clause looks to the noun modified and singles it out among others that could exist in the context. A defining clause points a finger at the noun modified and says, “that noun, not any others named by that noun.”

A defining clause begins with the relative pronoun that and is not set off by commas. Of course, defining clauses could begin with the personal relative pronouns—who, whom, whose. The key, then, becomes the absence of any comma setting off the clause.

Here are some defining clauses:

The judge who wrote the opinion assumed the bench in 1999.

The novel that climbed to the top of the charts set a sales record.

Here's the book I told you about. (This clause has its own independent subject “I,” so you may drop the that.)

See nondefining clause.

Have a discussion about this article with the community:


Use the citation below to add this article to your bibliography:


"defining clause." STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 21 Nov. 2017. <>.

Free Writing Tool:

Grammar Checker

Improve your grammar, vocabulary, and writing -- and it's FREE!

Improve your writing now:

Download Grammar eBooks

It’s now more important than ever to develop a powerful writing style. After all, most communication takes place in reports, emails, and instant messages.