relative clauses

 

1. The relative pronouns:

The relative pronouns are:
 

Subject  Object  Possessive
who whom, who whose
which which whose
that that  


We use who and whom for people, and which for things.
We use that for people or things.

We use relative pronouns to introduce relative clauses, which tell us more about people and things.

2. Relative clauses to postmodify a noun 

We use relative clauses to postmodify a noun - to make clear which person or thing we are talking about. In these clauses we can have the relative pronoun who, which, whose or that

  • as subject (see Clauses Sentences and Phrases)

Isn’t that the woman who lives across the road from you?
The police said the accident that happened last night was unavoidable
The newspaper reported that the tiger which killed its keeper has been put down.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

*The woman who [she] lives across the road…
*The tiger which [it] killed its keeper …

  • as object of a clause (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

Have you seen those people who we met on holiday?
You shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the newspaper.
The house that we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing which I enjoyed most about our holiday.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who when the relative pronoun is the object:

Have you seen those people whom we met on holiday?

- When the relative pronoun is object of its clause we sometimes leave it out:

Have you seen those people we met on holiday?
You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.
The house we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed most about our holiday.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

Have you seen those people who we met [them] on holiday?
The house that we rented [it] in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed [it] most about our holiday.

  • as object of a preposition. When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually put the preposition after the verb.:

You were talking to a woman >>> Who was the woman who you were talking to?
My parents live in that house >>> That’s the house that my parents live in.
You were talking about a book. I haven’t read it. >>> I haven’t read the book which you were talking about.

- When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually leave it out:

Who was the woman you were talking to?
That’s the house my parents live in.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who:

Who was that woman whom you were talking about.

- When we use whom or which the preposition sometimes comes at the beginning of the clause:

I haven’t read the book about which you were talking.

- We can use the possessive form, whose, in a relative clause:

I always forget that woman’s name >>> That’s the woman whose name I always forget.
I met a man whose brother works in Moscow.

3. Times and places

We also use when with times and where with places to make it clear which time or place we are talking about:

England won the world cup in 1996. It was the year when we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day when the tsunami happened.
Do you remember the place where we caught the train?
Stratford-upon-Avon is the town where Shakespeare was born.

... but we can leave out the word when:

England won the world cup in 1996. It was the year we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day the tsunami happened.

4. Giving additional information

 We use who, whom, whose, and which (but not that) in relative clauses to tell us more about a person or thing.

  • as subject (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

My uncle, who was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell’s 1984, which is one of the most frightening books ever written.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

My uncle, who [he] was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell’s 1984, which [it] is one of the most frightening books ever written.

  • as object (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed.
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw in “On the Waterfront”.

- we can use whom instead of who as object:

My favourite actor was Marlon Brando, whom I saw in “On the Waterfront”.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed [it].
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw [him] in “On the Waterfront”.

  • as object of a clause :

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired.
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited thirty years ago.

We can also use who as the object.

He finally met Paul McCartney, who he had always admired.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired [him].
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited [it] thirty years ago.

  • as object of a preposition:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, who he had read about in the newspaper.
That’s the programme which we listened to last night.

- We sometimes use whom instead of who:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, whom he had read about in the newspaper.

- The preposition sometimes comes in front of the relative pronoun whom or which:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, about whom he had read in the newspaper.
That’s the programme to which we listened last night.

5.  Quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns

 We often use quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns:

many of whom - most of whom - one of which - none of whom
some of which - lots of whom - two of which - etc.

We can use them as subject, object or object of a preposition.

She has three brothers two of whom are in the army.
I read three books last week, one of which I really enjoyed.
There were some good programmes on the radio, none of which I listened to.

6. Using  "which" to give more information

We often use the relative pronoun which to say something about a clause:

He was usually late, which always annoyed his father.
We’ve missed our train, which means we may be late.

 

Rearrange the parts to make sentences.

Match the sentence halves.

Comments

Hi English Team,

Putting a preposition in front of a relative clause frustrates me a lot. I try to avoid them, try not to use them but they seem to appear a lot of time both in speaking English and written English in books and articles, docs, etc. Words like "of which", "to which", I have no ideas what they mean in sentences. So I choose to master those once and for all, but how to?

Any suggestion Pom doctors?

Greeting from Vietnam. Good day.

Hello Anh Quân Chu,

This is explained a bit in the third point under section 2, but I'll break it down a little bit for you - hopefully this will help. One of the example sentences in section 2 is:

1. That's the house that my parents live in.

Note that in this sentence, the preposition 'in' comes at the end, after the verb. This is the most natural position for speaking and informal or neutral writing. Another more formal way to say or write this same sentence is:

2. That is the house in which my parents live.

As you can see, the preposition 'in' has been moved to before the relative pronoun 'which', but please know that there is no difference in meaning between sentence 2 and sentence 1. The reason that 'which' is used instead of 'that' is that prepositions can only be used before 'which' and 'whom'.

Does that help?

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk, that's a really helpful advice I must say, but I still, honestly, don't understand it in some points. Look at this sentence for example:
" I think I can also commend the people of Sydney for the calmness with which they have reacted to this disturbing incident."
Could you explain to me the grammatical meaning of "with which" in this sentence? And I also think about "at which"..
And some following results from my understanding of relative clause. I will rewrite the sentences in that same section 2, please check whether they're right:
I haven’t read the book which you were talking about. - I haven't read the book about which you were talking.
Who was the woman who you were talking to? - Who was the woman to whom you were talking? - or - The woman to whom you were talking, who was she?
I think the key in here is to reposition the preposition from the verb at the 2nd clause, if the verb is a phrasal verb. Actually that's what I remember when I saw the answer of a guy named Neil from your LearnEnglish Facebook site. What do you think? Am I right?
It's getting a bit long now so I should stop here. Hope you can answer me shortly. And could you provide me some online theories materials and exercises about this way of using relative clause. I've been searching for weeks in LearnEnglish BC Website but haven't found anything.

Okay that's all, have a nice day in Spain,

Regards,

Quan.

Hi Quan,

The first sentence contains the phrase 'the people reacted with calmness', which was reposition in the relative clause. Your rewritten versions of the two sentences (with 'book' and 'woman') are correct, and your conclusion about the key being repositioning is also correct, though this rule doesn't always apply with phrasal verbs (e.g. 'Karen is the person (whom) I picked up' can't become 'Karen is the person up whom I picked') - it's really about prepositions.

The BBC has a page on preposition + relative pronoun that might be helpful, or in general you could search for 'advanced relative clauses ESL' or something like that - I'm sure there are lots of good resources out there for you.

Good luck!

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk, that's truly helpful! I appreciate much. Hope we will keep in touch for a long time.

Regards,

Quận.

Hi
There is something i wanna know about below usage
"20” monitor that’s imported from Blu Ray"
Am i right or not ?
I am looking froward your reply.

Hi Saw Justine,

The sentence is correct grammatically - the relative clause is fine - apart from the lack of 'a' at the beginning. However, the vocabulary does not seem to make sense. Blu Ray is a technology for reading discs, so I'm not sure how you could 'import' a monitor from it. It is hard to be sure, however, without knowing the context of the sentence.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I feel I should know the answer to this but I am confused by the difference between: 'I always go to shops where the clothes are cheap' and 'I go to shops which sell cheap clothes'. A shop is a place, generally speaking, but the sentences have to be 'where' in the first, and 'which or that' in the second and I can't work out why. It's driving me a bit bananas. Can you help?

Hello jonwilton26,

The distinction here is quite subtle. 'Where' is adding information about a location; 'which' is adding information about the thing (the noun - shops) being discussed. It is possible to use 'which' in the second sentence but you need to add 'in' to it, which I think clarifies the distinciton: 'which' means 'the shop', while 'where' already refers to a location:

I go to shops in which they sell cheap clothes.

I go to shops in which cheap clothes are sold.

Notice also the verb form here: we cannot use 'where' as the subject of the verb 'sell' but must have another subject there, or use a passive form. This is because 'where' is a relative adverb rather than a relative pronoun like 'which'. Both can introduce relative clauses, but only the relative pronoun can be the subject of the verb. The other relative adverbs are when (for time) and why (for purpose).

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher,

I had problems with the excercise 3 and 12. I don't get the use of 'whose' and also I'm confused with the following relative pronouns 'who, whom and whose', so If you could explain me I'll be grateful with you!

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