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Adjective Clauses for Better Writing

Page history last edited by David Hodges 14 years, 1 month ago


What's So Important about Adjective Clauses

   (or, for that matter, Relative Pronouns)? 


Good question. Of course, the answer to all my rhetorical questions is the same: they make your writing clear and effective. Read this page before you take another look at Chapter 14. The more you appreciate the value of the Adjective Clause (and how the relative pronouns and adverbs function in them) the more patience you'll have to learn the tricky mechanics of constructing them yourself.


Acceptable Paragraph without Adjective Clauses


Last week I moved back to Philadelphia. I was born here. We moved to the country when I was six. My father had always appreciated the beauty of the farmlands there. We have lived in Lancaster County ever since. The pace of life is leisurely and peaceful. There is very little violence in the country. By comparison, Philadelphia is dirty and noisy. Also, the streets are more dangerous than the country lanes I am accustomed to. Still, a city is more exciting. It offers more chances for entertainment. Also, there are more types of restaurants here. We thought about moving for many years. Finally, we moved because the timing seemed right.


Paragraph Improved by Adjective Clauses


Last week I moved back to Philadelphia, the city where I was born. When I was six, my father, who had always appreciated the beauty of the farmlands there, moved us to Lancaster County, which is famous for its peacefulness and leisurely pacePhiladelphia, which is dirtier and noisier, is also more violent. Its streets are more dangerous than the country lanes to which I am accustomed. Still, a city that offers many types of restaurants and entertainment is more exciting than the quiet country town from which we had thought about moving for years. Moving back was an idea whose time had finally come..


Adjective Clauses in Actual Paragraphs


Understandably, the paragraph above has a forced, artificial feeling. Any paragraph that contains eight adjective clauses in just six sentences will not sound natural. But the value of the individual clauses should be obvious. (If it isn't, I'll explain.)


Subordination is Richer, More Effective, than Coordination.


Like any type of subordination, adjective clauses create logical connections between ideas much more powerfully than mere conjunctions can. The second sentence (which begins, "when I was six") makes it clear that the father's appreciation for beauty and peace compelled him to transplant the family to Lancaster County because it possessed those attributes. The "unimproved" version does not make those connections.


A Key to the Text


In the "improved" paragraph, I have made bold all eight adjective clauses. See how many forms they can take! The relative pronouns and relative adverbs are red. The nouns which the adjective clauses modify are underlined.


where I was born

who had always appreciated beauty

which is famous for its pace

which is dirtier and noisier

to which I am accustomed

that offers many types of restaurants

from which we moved

whose time finally came


Other Cool Things You Can Do with Adjective Clauses


1. Act Like a Pro

Because clauses are fine if you don't mind letting everybody know what you're doing. When you want to be subtle, though, or persuade your readers as if by magic, adjective clauses can make cause/effect arguments that sound like innocent descriptions. For example:


Unsophisticated Because Clause (very Writing 3!)

The lawyer said his young client should be given a brief sentence, or no sentence at all, because he had never been in trouble with the law before.

In addition to being blunt, this sentence also confuses readers about who had a clean record, the lawyer or his client.


Impressive, Sophisticated Adjective Clause (very Writing 5!)

The lawyer said his young client, who had never been in trouble with the law, should be given a brief sentence, or no sentence at all.

This improved sentence gets readers to think the client deserves leniency before the lawyer makes his plea and ends with the dramatic "or no sentence at all."


2. Turn Your Notes into Music

 Describing someone with a list of declarative sentences is a good way to bore your readers. Conjunctions reduce the number of short sentences, but they don't keep anybody from falling asleep. Adjective clauses, on the other hand, preserve all your important details while creating balance and support between your sentences, maybe even a bit of music.


Boring List of Details(very Writing 3!)

Mozart was a prolific composer. He composed over 600 works. Many of his compositions are masterpieces of the classical era. He is among the most popular composers of all time. Mozart showed promise early in life. By age five, he was already competent on the piano and violin. Most five-year-olds can only play "Chopsticks" but Mozart performed for royalty at that age. When he was 17, he was hired as a court musician, but the work made him restless, so he traveled to find something better. He lost his job in 1781. He stayed in Salzburg and became famous but he never got rich because he spent all the money he made and died without a penny.


Try rewriting the above for yourself before reading the version below!


More Like Song (very Writing 5!)

Mozart, many of whose 600 compositions are masterpieces of the classical era, is among the most popular composers of all time. Mozart showed promise early in life. At an age when most children can only play "Chopsticks," five-year-old Mozart, who was already competent on piano and violin, was performing for royalty. The court musician job for which he was hired at 17 bored young Mozart, who quit the job and traveled seeking a position that might challenge him. The music that he wrote in Salzburg, and which made him famous, never made him rich. The musical genius who so enriched the world died young, ill, and penniless.


Better sentences, don't you think? Impossible without adjective clauses! I hope they'll inspire you to write your own.



Comments (5)


at 9:15 pm on Jun 23, 2010

Dear professor Hodges,
I used to like adjective clauses, but I love them even more now!!!
I like my writing when I use adjective clauses.
Thank you for your support.

David Hodges said

at 11:09 pm on Jun 23, 2010

That's wonderful to hear, Nora, and you're welcome, of course. I felt very neglectful not covering the Adjective Clauses chapter in class today. This is the least I can do to demonstrate why they're so valuable and worth learning about.

Beth.Luseni129@students.camdencc.edu said

at 2:50 pm on Jun 29, 2010

Hi professor Hodges, I practice using the adjective clauses following the examples in the passage about the boy and family moving to Lancaster County,and I think if I continue using the relative pronoun and the relative adverb and the noun which the adjective clauses modify I will be able to write a good essay.

Beth.Luseni129@students.camdencc.edu said

at 2:58 pm on Jun 29, 2010

Professor Hodges,This is really embrassing to me,it is as if I am still logging in the wrong wiki or the college advisor use the old information for writing & reading 3.Please help!

David Hodges said

at 5:30 pm on Jun 29, 2010

Changing your display name isn't hard, Elizabeth.

1. Click the "account" link in the upper right-hand corner of the wiki page.
2. Click the "Profile" tab under the heading "My PBWorks."
3. Under "Basic Information," type a new name in the "Name" box.
4. "Save" your new settings.

I just changed my own name to "Dave" for a minute and changed it right back.
The wiki goes back and changes all traces of your old name with the new name right away.

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