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.



I'm so confused :S
I always have had problem with relative pronouns :(

Hello erpankaj,

'Children' are people and so we need to use 'who' rather than 'which'. In the phrase 'all of...' we need to use an object form, so 'whom' is correct. We cannot use 'that' as a relative pronoun in this phrase; the phrase 'all of that' is used to mean 'all of those things just mentioned'.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Please can you tell me why we can say: 'This is the house where I lived last year' and it's correct but we can't say: 'This is the villa where we rented last year.'

Hello Jasper,

As a relative pronoun, 'where' is used in the same way as a preposition + 'which'. You can say 'This is the house in which I lived ...' but 'This is the villa *in which we rented ...' is not grammatical because there is no preposition indicating an adverbial of location here - one would say 'This is the villa that we rented last year'.

Note that 'live' is an intransitive verb, often followed by an adverbial of location, whereas 'rent' is a transitive verb - that is why 'that' or 'which' are the relative pronouns that would most naturally go with it.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk
Thanks for your reply. I'm not too sure what you mean. Is it because of the verb 'rent'? I don't know when I can use preposition 'which'.
Could I say This is the beach where was outside my apartment?
Sorry for confusion.

Hello again Jasper,

'where' as a relative pronoun refers to a location, and in most sentences this location is expressed with some kind of preposition or prepositional phrase (e.g. the villa we stayed in, the restaurant we went to). The phrase with 'rent' doesn't refer to the villa as a place you were in, but rather as an object of the verb 'rent'.

'which' is not a preposition - it is another kind of relative pronoun - please see the explanation above.

'This is the beach where was outside my apartment' is not correct. 'where' is the subject of the verb outside, and it refers to an object (the beach), so the relative pronoun should be 'that' or 'which'.

Does that help?

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi peter,
first of all thank you,your second post made me understand the difference between that two sentences.
I like people working hard.
this means people sometimes work hard not all the time.right?

Hi Peter M! I still don't understand the second sentence.when we talk about an action, we use 'crying' is a participle which specifies 'boy'.if we use adjective clause, the sentence would be:
people do not like the boy who cries.

Hi neha_sri,

The forms in these sentences are not gerunds: a gerund is a noun formed from a verb, and neither sentence is an example of that. I think the terminology here is not particularly helpful to you, and I would suggest that you focus on on the meaning rather than the names of the forms.

As I said in the previous answer, the two original sentences have different meanings and they are as I described: one talks about a boy crying now (at the moment of speaking); the other talks about a boy who cries sometimes and about the negative reaction when he does so.

Your sentence here has another - third - meaning:

People do not like the boy who cries - this tells us that there are various boys and that the unpopular boy is the one who cries (unlike the other boys, who do not cry). It is an example of a defining relative clause, telling us which boy is being referred to.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you. Each sentence is correct, but each has a different meaning.

Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team