Do native speakers use "relative clauses" much when speaking?

For example:

  1. "The bag he is carrying is very heavy."


  1. "Have you seen the photos Ann took?"

Do native speakers often talk like this?

  • 3
    I'm not a grammar expert, but yes, those are natural sentences in spoken English. They're natural enough that I had to stop and think and try to parse the sentence into pieces. I assume you mean The bag he is carrying and the photos Ann took are the relative clauses?
    – Jason S
    Nov 6 '14 at 14:46
  • Yes Jason, I assume that are relative clauses.
    – Carter
    Nov 6 '14 at 15:01
  • 1
    Aren't the bag and the photos here just nouns? It seems to me the relative clauses are [which] he is carrying and [that] Ann took. Those are the bits of supplementary information that could in principle be removed whilst retaining a grammatical sentence that's simply a bit less informative. Nov 6 '14 at 17:12

Yes. See Frequency of Basic English Grammatical Structures: A Corpus Analysis (Roland et al. 2009):

  1. In the Switchboard corpus, representing unscripted conversation, they found 25,440 relative clauses per million noun phrases.

  2. In the Wall Street Journal corpus, representing formal written English, they found 46,788 relative clauses per million noun phrases.

So relative clauses are frequent in both informal conversation and formal written English, but they're more frequent in the latter.

Your examples are perfectly natural. All native speakers use relative clauses, and they're quite common in daily speech.


I have italicised the defining relative clauses:

"The bag (that) he is carrying is very heavy."

"Have you seen the photos (that) Ann took?"

They are perfectly natural. The version with that omitted is more informal.


Yes, these types of sentences are used daily in American English.

Slightly more common would be "He is carrying a very heavy bag." or "Have you seen Ann's photos?" However, the sentences have identical meanings and usages, with only a small difference in focus. One draws our attention to the subject ("He" and "You") and the other to the object ("the bag" and "the photos.")

  • Thanks I want to more your explain as to your way what I think you did good explain about native speaker's think ways at speak.
    – Carter
    Nov 6 '14 at 15:00

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