For the purpose of building a dynamic user interface within an software application I wish to separate parts of a set of phrases which would be in the form of the examples below.


  • Customers who have never paid a dime.
  • Vendors who are not very reliable.
  • Products that are way too expensive.

Doing this is easy enough however I'm struggling for a term to describe the different parts of the sentence.

The first part perhaps would be the subject but what about the pronouns who or that (relative pronouns). Is there a phrase or term to describe the combination of the subject plus the relative pronoun that I could use as a single unit in discussion or documentation or am I better just to refer to it as something like a "customer pronoun pair" or "customer relative pronoun combination".

As far as the second part of the sentence (the non-bold parts in the examples above) I'm sure there must be a more common phrase but I could use some help in identifying what it is.

Another option perhaps would be to split the sentence into three parts to better describe the pieces but I'm not sure there is much value in it unless I could be convinced otherwise. My goal is to use these parts flexibly so that I can dynamically produce lists that appears something like the one below.

Customers who:

  • have never paid a dime.
  • are way too cheap.
  • always pay on time.

4 Answers 4


Your question is somewhat misleading, and may contain a false assumption. A statement like the following:

Customers who have never paid a dime

is not a sentence. It's a noun phrase. Let's break that down:

Customers is a noun. Nouns are not inherently subjects or objects, so it's not correct to refer to this as either the subject or the object.

The remaining part who have never paid a dime is a relative clause, which is an embedded sentence that is used to modify something in the larger context. The subject of the embedded clause is the relative pronoun who, and the remainder have never paid a dime is the predicate of the relative clause.

However, using terms such as "predicate" and "relative clause" may be intimidating to people using your software. My best offering for newbie-friendly terminology would be:

  • Call Customers a noun (most people at least know what that means)
  • Call who a "question word", and make it clear by example what you're referring to
  • Call have never paid a dime a "description"
  • I don't know if it's standard terminology, but one could reasonably define "who have never paid a dime" etc., as "constraining clauses", being a subset of all possible "relative clauses". Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 16:15

These are sentence fragments, not whole sentences here. You are actually only giving us the subject or object of a sentence, without the rest of the sentence to go around it. They are in fact all noun phrases using a relative clause:

[Customers [who [have never paid a dime]] should be shot.

The short answer to your question is that there isn't a grammatical term for "noun + relative pronoun", because we don't analyse sentences that way. That I know of, anyway: someone more knowledgeable than I is sure to punish me for that bit of hubris!

  • Careful... you're saying what I just said, and I got downvoted!
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 14:22
  • @drm8: For some reason I didn't get the "new answers" notification as I was typing, sorry. I don't understand why you and Mark were downvoted for perfectly sensible answers.
    – user1579
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 14:25

Actually, "Customers who have never paid a dime" is not a sentence; it is a noun phrase including a relative clause.

"Customers" is the simple noun. "Who have never paid a dime" is a clause which modifies the noun (customers). It is unnecessary to coin a term to describe the noun + the relative pronoun of the following clause, because they are not a single unit.

An example of a full sentence, using the relative clause (in italics):

Customers who have never paid a dime are detrimental to the business.

  • Customers could also be the object of a sentence.
    – apaderno
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 14:41
  • @kiam: Thanks: very true. I automatically assumed that the phrase was a the beginning of the sentence. Thanks for pointing that out. I edited my answer to be more correct.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 15:08
  • @drm65, now that you've edited, I took back my downvote :). Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 15:22

I'm not sure entirely what you're looking for, but "customers who" is the (phrasal) subject of the sentence, and the rest is the predicate.

I don't know of a special word for noun + relative pronoun. Do you really think we need one?

  • "Do you really think we need one?" No but if there were one I would want to use it instead of referring to it as something awkward.
    – jpierson
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 17:43
  • @Rhodri - Well, to be more specific one thing could be variable naming within a programming language but also software documentation by be another reason. Based on what solutions have been contributed so far I'm leaning towards the names NounRelativePronounCombination and RelativePhrasePredicate although it's definitely not set in stone.
    – jpierson
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 21:35

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