relative pronouns

 

The relative pronouns are:

 

Subject Object Possessive
who who(m) whose
which which whose
that that  

 


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

We use relative pronouns:

after a noun, to make it clear which person or thing we are talking about:

the house that Jack built
the woman who discovered radium
an eight-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop

to tell us more about a person or thing:

My mother, who was born overseas, has always been a great traveller.
Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
We had fish and chips, which is my favourite meal.

But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause.

We use whose as the possessive form of who:

This is George, whose brother went to school with me.

We sometimes use whom as the object of a verb or preposition:

This is George, whom you met at our house last year.
This is George’s brother, with whom I went to school.

But nowadays we normally use who:

This is George, who you met at our house last year.
This is George’s brother, who I went to school with.

When whom or which have a preposition the preposition can come at the beginning of the clause...

I had an uncle in Germany, from who[m] I inherited a bit of money.
We bought a chainsaw, with which we cut up all the wood.

or at the end of the clause:

I had an uncle in Germany who[m] I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought a chainsaw, which we cut all the wood up with.

We can use that at the beginning of the clause:

I had an uncle in Germany that I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought a chainsaw that we cut all the wood up with.

Exercise

Comments

Hi teachers,

I'm a newbie here. First of all, i would like to say millions of "thank you" for the team of this page for your guidance. I do really love this website so much.

Based on my understanding, 'which' and 'that' can refer to things. And, 'that' cannot be used in non defining clause.Other than that, any difference between these two words.

For intance,'The house that Jack built.' Is it appropriate to use 'which' as well?

Another example i taken from my book. 'The dog (which/that) bit him belongs to an old man who lives in that big house. I couldn't understand 'that' can be used in this sentence.

Could you please explain these? Thanks.

Hi patrick,

Thanks for your kind feedback - it's always great to hear that people appreciate our work!

There is more information on our relative clauses page that you might find useful, but to answer your questions, there is no difference in meaning between the relative pronouns which and that. But as you observe, they are not completely interchangeable since there are different kinds of relative clauses. Yes, you can say 'The house which Jack built' and for the sentence from your book, both 'that' and 'which' are correct because both can be the antecedent of the defining clause 'which/that bit him'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Teachers!

I get confused when i read or use participles.My question is that the below given sentence is correct or not?

There are some serious issues related to business that need to be talked about.

In the above sentence that is used for issues or business?
Thanks

Hello neha_sri,

The sentence is correct. I'm not sure what you mean by 'participle' here - do you mean 'relative pronouns', like 'that', 'which', 'who' etc?

In this sentence the relative pronoun 'that' refers to the whole phrase 'some serious issues related to business'.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
Can you please help me on this:
This is George whose his car killed two people.
is that a correct sentence..?

Hi magettarashid,

No, that is not correct, though removing just one word, it can be correct: 'This is George, whose car killed two people.' The relative pronoun 'whose' is possessive, and so the possessive adjective 'his' should not be used; it's already clear whose car it is with the word 'whose'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sekandar,

'that' is not correct in number 4 due to the rule above that states 'But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause.', which comes after the example about fish and chips.

In number 4, the relative pronoun is the subject of the verb 'upsets', and therefore can only be 'which', not 'that'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I have a confusion. "Whom should I approach" or "Who should I approach"--- which one is grammatically correct?

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