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

Hey!I want to ask about 2 thing.Firstly,the bullet no.5 in this context with a subtitle of "Quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns"the sentence "She has three brothers two of whom are in the army." i can't understand why there is no comma after "brothers"isn't it a non-defining relative clause because "she has three brothers"is a full separable sentence.

the other question is :"mark passed his driving test,which is fantastic" which here is describing the whole situation but how could i use which to describe only the "driving test"

Hello ali57578,

You are quite right about the comma in the sentence and I have corrected this on the page. We check our pages carefully but typos sometimes still slip through so we are always grateful for eagle-eyed users who spot them!

As far as your other question goes, the answer is that there is no grammatical difference. Only the context and the speaker's intonation allows the listener to identify if the relative clause describes the whole of the main clause or just one part of it. Therefore a sentence like the following can be ambiguous:

I went to the party, which was great.

Other than intonation and context, there is no way to tell if the speaker means that it was a great party or that going to the party was a great thing.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Many thanks Mr Peter . It was really helpful

could i ask another question about the second one i've asked. The driving test,which Mark passed, was fantastic. could this apply to describe the driving test ? instead of the previous one which is ambiguous ?

Hello ali57578,

You could say that and it would remove the ambiguity. However, it would also change the focus of the sentence. In this new sentence the main information you are conveying is 'The driving test was fantastic' and the information 'Mark passed' is secondary. In the original sentence it was the other way round: the information about passing was the news, and the opinion was an aside. Therefore, in terms of the information it contains, the sentences are the same, but in terms of their communicative value they are quite different.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi all,

I just had a quick question regarding relative clauses and apposition.

Looks through various sources I can't seem to get clear guidance on their difference.

Is apposition an overarching concept in which you can have nouns, noun phases or relative clause which are in apposition to something. Or is apposition another category?

Secondly, some sources have noted that you can have both defining and non-defining appositional phrases (I.e some will be within commas, whilst others will not).

Any light on this would be much appreciated.

Thanks
Daniel

Hello Daniel,

If I could give you a quick answer that I was certain was accurate I would, but I'm afraid that this question lies beyond the sort of learner-focused syntactic analysis that we provide. I'm not sure if you already looked in the Cambridge Dictionary's grammar or in the Wikipedia, but if not, I'd suggest these as good places to start.

Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear all,
could you please link me to the rules that would explain why:

1) We cannot omit the possesive relative pronoun in Identifying relative clause.
Example - "I met somebody whose ambition is to climb Everest."
I know that we can not do this but I can not explain why. By the general rule - we can. But that makes no sense.

2) "Everyone in my family always eats WHAT i cook"
This is object pronoun in identifying clause - why them we can not omit it?

3) "I didn't understand what he was saying"
"What" is a relative pronoun that means "the thing" or "things which". THis is a defining relative clause, why we can not omit the pronoun?

I know that omitting is not mandatory, but I thought we have a right if we want to. But obviously we can't. Why?

Hello VikiPtiki,

In order to omit the relative pronoun there must be another subject for the verb in the relative clause. For example:

I live in the house which you can see there.

I live in the house which stands at the end of the road.

In the first example the verb in the relative clause is 'can (see)'. The subject is 'you'. Therefore we can remove 'which'.

In the second example the verb in the relative clause is 'stands'. The subject is 'which'. Therefore we cannot remove 'which' as the verb needs a subject.

To answer your questions:

1) The relative pronoun 'whose' is followed by a noun, not a subject-verb, and so cannot be omitted.

2) 'What' is used to form in effect a relative clause which has been reduced. If we see the whole relative clause then you can remove the relative pronoun:

Everyone in my family always eats the food which I cook.

In this relative clause we can remove the pronoun. However, if we use 'what' then we are already reducing it and further reduction would make the meaning unclear.

3) This is another example with 'what'. See above for the explanation.

 

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Peter!! It really does! Thank you for the prompt and clear reply!

Pages