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now I am trying to study about relative clauses. But I am curious about why do you use relative clauses? For example, a thief is a person who steals thing.

also how do many English native speaker use relative clauses?

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    Even though I don't know about your first language, it would be a really big surprise for me if your first language had no relative clauses. I believe that you need to use it if you want to translate "a thief is a person who steals thing" literally. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 3:01
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    @user1917217 Damkerng is just (helpfully!) pointing out that your language most likely has relative clauses, just like English. Pretty much every language does.
    – user230
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 3:12
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    "How many native speakers of English use relative clauses?" All of them. And they use them all the time―see figure 1 here for a breakdown, with the Switchboard corpus representing conversation and the WSJ representing formal written English.
    – user230
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 3:17
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    Because in the end, it's all relative. :P
    – Damien H
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 4:14
  • I don't understand what does it mean " Even though I don't know about your first language, " Especially, what does mean the first language?
    – Carter
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 4:43

1 Answer 1

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You use relative clauses to give additional information about the subject for which you are speaking. To take your example, let's take the basic sentence.

The thief is in jail.

We have a thief, and we have a jail that thief is in. Now, let's describe the thief using a relative clause.

The thief that stole my wallet is in jail.

Now the thief isn't just any old thief, the thief is the thief that stole your wallet, and that thief is in jail. The phrase that stole my wallet expands upon and shares its referent, the thief, with the the phrase is in jail.

And to answer your second question, native english speakers use relative clauses to flesh out the information given in a single sentence. Sometimes we go overboard with it too, and you'll get run on sentences like this monstrosity:

The car that my friend got from her sister which got scratched in the accident
last week with the bicycle in the crosswalk and ran into a tree is back from the 
auto shop.

So, to break it down:

  • The CAR is back
    • The car was at an auto shop.
    • The car was received by my friend
      • The friend received it from her sister
    • The car was scratched
      • The scratch occurred in an accident
      • The accident occurred last week
      • The accident included a bicycle
        • The bicycle was in the crosswalk
      • The accident included running into a tree

Whew!

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    That monstrosity only has two relative clauses: "The car [ that my friend got from her sister ] [ which got scratched in the accident last week with the bicycle in the crosswalk and ran into a tree ] is back from the auto shop."
    – user230
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 3:15

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