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A Reason to Understand Adjective Clauses

A Reason to Understand Adjective Clauses
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Imagine you want to answer a why question.

For example, someone asks you:

Why did you go to the train station?

Your answer might use an adjective clause.

If you do not know what that term means, do not worry. We will explain the idea in today’s report.

In this Everyday Grammar, we will explore adjective clauses that describe reasons. But first, we need to begin with a few definitions.

What are clauses?

What are clauses, anyway? Clauses are groups of words that have a subject and a predicate.

Consider this example:

English grammar is fun.

English grammar is the subject. Is fun is the predicate.

Sometimes clauses are not complete sentences. Sometimes they play a part in a longer, more complex sentence. This is where we come to adjective clauses, also called relative clauses. Adjective clauses are clauses that act like an adjective. They describe or give additional information about nouns.

Consider this example:

This is the book that I told you about.

The adjective clause is that I told you about.

It describes, or gives more information about the noun, book.

Adjective clauses have many uses. They can describe nouns that refer to time, place or reason. When describing reasons, Americans often use adjective clauses immediately after the noun reason.

English speakers commonly use words such as why or that to begin these clauses. But, sometimes they do not use any words at all!

Reason + why

One common structure is the noun reason followed by an adjective clause that begins with the word why.

Imagine a situation in which beginning science students try to find out why their experiment had unusual results. Perhaps one of them finds that the measurement tools have not been cleaned. He or she might say:

This may be the reason why our results were unusual.

The adjective clause begins with the word why immediately after the noun reason.

Reason + 0

In a second common structure, there are no special words that begin the adjective clause after the word reason.

Consider the question you heard at the beginning of this report:

Why did you go to the train station?

You could say:

The only reason I went there was to meet my friend.


The reason I went to the train station was to meet my friend.

Popular music also has many examples of this structure. Consider these words from Shania Twain.

You're the reason I believe in love

And you're the answer to my prayers from up above

Reason + that

You might hear a third structure – the noun reason followed by an adjective clause beginning with the word that.

Think back to our example about the train station.

Why did you go to the train station?

You could say:

The reason that I went there was to meet my friend.

Different examples

You will hear English speakers use all of the structures that we talked about today. Sometimes you will hear them use two or more of the structures that we have talked about in the same song, speech, or discussion.

Let’s listen to a few words from Callum Scott’s song, You Are the Reason.

There goes my heart beating

Cause you are the reason

I'm losing my sleep

Please come back now

Note that Scott does not use a special word between the word reason and the words I’m losing my sleep.

Let’s listen to a few more words from Scott’s song:

There goes my mind racing

And you are the reason

That I'm still breathing

I'm hopeless now

You might be wondering why Scott used the word that in this example. In the other example, after all, he did not use any special word at all.

There are a few possible explanations. The songwriter could have used that because it sounded better. Or possibly the songwriter did not want to repeat the exact same grammatical structure throughout the song.

Closing thoughts

The next time you listen to music or shows in English, listen for how speakers describe reasons. Take note of when they use the word reason and when they use adjective clauses to describe it.

With time and practice, you will use adjective clauses with great ease!

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

predicate – n. grammar: the part of a sentence that expresses what is said about the subject

refer to – phrasal verb to have a direct connection or relationship to (something)

practice – n. the activity of doing something again and again in order to become better at it