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.

Section: 

Comments

Hi there,

I understand "what" is used in the following sentence as relative pronoun. Is that correct?
"He blamed the current situation on what he termed an inadequate U.S. response."
http://in.reuters.com/article/usa-congress-tillerson-china-idINKBN14W01F

However, we don’t use what as a relative pronoun.

If so, please help me the role of what in this context.

Many thanks!

Hello Agnes,

In this case, 'what' is a pronoun. See the Cambridge Dictionary entry on 'What as a pronoun'. You have to scroll down the page a bit to see it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

My question is "what" in this context is a RELATIVE pronoun?

Reference to Cambridge site, saying "We can use what as a pronoun to mean ‘the thing(s) that’" but "We don’t use what as a relative pronoun."

So the question is just whether the other construction of what is technically a kind of relative pronoun or not.
Meant to say what is "the thing or things that" that is used in general not for specifying something?
Many thanks!

Hello Agnes,

I agree with Cambridge: 'what' is not a relative pronoun. It doesn't refer to another noun phrase in the sentence, but rather begins a clause, and this clause can be a subject or object in the sentence.

It sounds as if you may have found a source that refers to it as a relative pronoun. If so, and that makes more sense to you, then by all means go with that idea. In the end, if you understand how to use it, we are happy - we are not a linguistics site, but rather a site dedicated to helping people to learn to use English.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thank you very much from your explaination.

Apparently there are many situations I have not understood though there are also answer keys, such as
But it wasn`t until the beginning of this century that anybody was able to fly in a machine {who / which/ what} was heavier than air, in other words, in {who/ which / what} we now call a “plane”.

For the last choice, I chose which instead of what. Some believe that "what" is chosen here because it is a adverb of verb "call".
However, I do not have a consensus view with that idea so much.

Many thanks!

Hello Agnes,

You're welcome. In the gap you mention, only 'what' is correct. Like Cambridge, I'd say it's a pronoun (but not relative pronoun) here.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,
Thank you indeed. I just feel vaguely in using them in my writing practise.
Take example,
Owing to acid rain, historic buildings are crumbling into decay,_________.
Answer key is either one of followings:
1.some of them world treasures many centuries old.
2.some of which are world treasures many centuries old.

However, I did not know what is the grammatical structure of sentence no.1?
And can it be substituted as some of what instead of some of them/ some of which for both above sentences?

Many thanks!

Hi Agnes Nguyen,

In this construction we can follow the relative pronoun which with a finite verb ('are') or a pronoun (or noun) with a participle ('being'). In the example you quote the participle has been omitted, as it usually is, for stylistic reasons:

some of them (being) world treasures many centuries old [pronoun + participle]

some of which are world treasures many centuries old [which + verb]

You cannot use 'what' in either sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Quite interesting stuff highly enlightening I hope to ace my IELTS exam with at least a 7

Hello, I feel confused between using 'that' and 'where' when I'm talking about place and I Know we use 'at which or in which' instead of 'where' like in these examples:
'I know a restaurant where the food is excellent'
'This the place where the accident happened'
'Is this the cafe where you left your handbag'
And I know also I can use 'that' and add the prepostion at the end.
And this example we can say 'I remember the place where/that/in which we first met'.
Could you please explain why sometimes 'Where and in which/at which' are correct not 'that'
And finally please Can I say I remember 'the place which we fisrt met' I mean can I use 'which' like 'that'

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