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

Hello Sir,

Which of the following sentences is correct: " It is I who am responsible," or " It is I who is responsible."
Thanks in advance

Hello zagrus,

This is a very complicated issue and there is no firm consensus on the correct form. The best recourse for us is to look at standard usage, rather than trying to find a fixed rule. Fundamentally, there are two issues here:

  • which pronoun should be used, subject or object
  • whether the verb should agree with the pronoun or with 'who' as a third-person form

This means we have four alternatives. These are below with my comments following each:

It is is I who is responsible. [This is certainly a form which is used widely and is a possible form]

It is I who am responsible. [This is also in use but has a more formal and, perhaps, slightly old-fashioned ring to it; it is a possible form]

It is me who is responsible. [This is probably the most common of the four forms in conversational use; it is a possible form]

It is me who am responsible. [This is not a form which is used and would be incorrect]

You can see that three of the alternatives can be correctly used. However, the whole construction is quite unusual and other constructions would be much more likely, such as:

The person responsible is me.

I'm the one (who's) responsible.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hi dear
Would you anyone help me use of "it" and "this" in sentence.

Appreciate you.

Osman

Hello Osman,

'it' is a personal pronoun - note that it can act as both a subject and object. 'it' can also act as a dummy subject when there is no obvious subject for a verb.

'this' can be used as a pronoun to refer to something that is near you or which you've just mentioned, and can also be used with a noun as a determiner with the same meaning.

That's a lot of information, but if you look at each of the pages I linked to and study them carefully, I think that should clarify it for you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hey guys, I'm a newcomer here.
My name is Ary, I'm 21 years old and I'm from Indonesia.

So, I took the quiz on this session but I got confused when I was on the 5th question, which was "They had four children, all of ............... went to university.".

Why don't we use "All of which went to university" instead of "All of whom went to university"?

and why the word "university" is not on plural form? if on singular form why it is not using an article like "a" or "the".

And if you don't mind, would you help me checking my grammar mistakes in this question? :D

- Thank you guys for answering.

Hi Ary,

We use 'who' (and 'whom') rather than 'which' when we are talking about people. 'Children' are people, and so the correct pronoun is 'whom' here.

When we say 'go to university' we mean 'study' rather than visit a place. If we use an article ('He went to the university') then we suggest a visit to a building, such a tourist sightseeing or a visitor who wishes to use the library or meet a person who works there. This distinction is true of many public institutions:

go to hospital = be a patient

go to a hospital = visit the place

The same is true of court (the legal institution), school and prison.

I'm afraid it's not possible for us to correct users' posts on LearnEnglish. We are a small team and we receive many posts and comments every day - if we tried to correct them then we would have no time for anything else!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

During studying adjective clauses, I am really confused with when to use "that" , "which" and "who", since "that" can be used to identify things and people. Many books have different explanations and standards.

Is there any rule when we must use which one in a particular situation?

Thank you so much!

Hi platformreg,

In speaking, 'who' tends to be used more often than 'that' (to refer to people), and the same is true for 'which' and 'that' (to refer to things), but you can find many exceptions to this.

In general, I don't think using one or the other will make a big difference in your speaking, though if you're very concerned about this, one thing that can be very useful is to read and listen to texts that are the kinds that you're most likely to speak or write in when you use English. For example, if you're going to study at university in English, read academic papers and watch lectures (see, for example, our Writing for a purpose section or ted.com) and observe how relative pronouns are used.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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