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Relative pronouns and relative clauses

Level: beginner

The relative pronouns are:

Subject Object Possessive
who who/whom whose
which which whose
that that -

We use relative pronouns to introduce relative clauses. Relative clauses tell us more about people and things:

Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
This is the house which Jack built.
Marie Curie is the woman that discovered radium.

We use:

  • who and whom for people
  • which for things
  • that for people or things.

Two kinds of relative clause

There are two kinds of relative clause:

1.  We use relative clauses to make clear which person or thing we are talking about:

Marie Curie is the woman who discovered radium.
This is the house which Jack built.

In this kind of relative clause, we can use that instead of who or which:

Marie Curie is the woman that discovered radium.
This is the house that Jack built.

We can leave out the pronoun if it is the object of the relative clause:

This is the house that Jack built. (that is the object of built)

Relative pronouns 1

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Relative pronouns 2

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Be careful!

The relative pronoun is the subject/object of the relative clause, so we do not repeat the subject/object:

Marie Curie is the woman who she discovered radium.
(who is the subject of discovered, so we don't need she)

This is the house that Jack built it.
(that is the object of built, so we don't need it)

2.  We also use relative clauses to give more information about a person, thing or situation:

Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
We had fish and chips, which I always enjoy.
I met Rebecca in town yesterday, which was a nice surprise.

With this kind of relative clause, we use commas (,) to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

Be careful!

In this kind of relative clause, we cannot use that:

Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
(NOT Lord Thompson, that is 76, has just retired.)

and we cannot leave out the pronoun:

We had fish and chips, which I always enjoy.
(NOT We had fish and chips, I always enjoy.)

Relative pronouns 3

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Relative pronouns 4

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Level: intermediate

whose and whom

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.
(whom is the object of met)

This is George’s brother, with whom I went to school.
(whom is the object of with)

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.

Relative pronouns 5

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Relative pronouns with prepositions

When who(m) 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.

But when that has a preposition, the preposition always comes at the end:

I didn't know the uncle that I inherited the money from.
We can't find the chainsaw that we cut all the wood up with.

Relative pronouns 6

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when and where

We can 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 1966. 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.

We can leave out when:

England won the World Cup in 1966. It was the year we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day the tsunami happened.

We often use quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns: 

all of which/whom most of which/whom many of which/whom
lots of which/whom a few of which/whom none of which/whom
one of which/whom two of which/whom etc.

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.

 

Comments

Hello Peter M.

Thank you very much for clarifying that for me!

Hello,
I am doing activities using relative pronouns and linking expressions. There is an exercise that I have to tick the ones that are correct and replace the relative pronoun in those that are wrong.

"It was not until I was seventeen that I started writing down all what happened to me every day."

I know that "what happened" is wrong and I should replace it with "that happened" but I´m not sure why, it just sounds right to me.

I mean why can´t it be replaced with "which" as we use that relative pronoun for things also.

Please help.

Hello ClaireUB78,

'What' is not used in relative clauses in English. You can use the relative pronouns who (whom), which and that.

After 'all' we use that rather than who or which in modern English. The use of who or which is not ungrammatical but it sounds archaic to the modern ear.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Someone told me that there is no such thing as a noun clause. Is that true?

What I had forgotten was that I had a test today

Is “what I had forgotten” a noun phrase or a noun clause in the sentence above
Someone told me it was a noun phrase
but I don’t believe that because it’s said everywhere on the internet that a noun phrase does not have a subject and verb pairing

Please help me understand this

I have another question about this other sentence:

They may be coming sooner than we expected

Someone told me that the word ‘be’ in this sentence was a bare infinitive Or is the word ‘be’ in this sentence a helping verb?
Is the word ‘coming’ in this sentence a verbal?
What tense is this sentence in?
I think it’s in progressive tense but it doesn’t match up with how any of the progressive tenses are formed so I’m a bit confused.
I already know that ‘may’ is a modal verb and that ‘may be coming’ is suppose to be a verb phrase

Hello Roses,

The modal verb 'may' is followed by an infinitive without 'to', but there are different forms of the infinitive. Here, you have a continuous infinitive formed with be + verb-ing.

 

There are many infinitive forms. For example:

He may come... > infinitive

He may be coming... > continuous infinitive

He may have come... > perfect infinitive

He may be stopped... > passive infintive

He may have been stopped... > perfect passive infinitive

He may have been being stopped... > perfect passive continuous infinitive

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

All that was left was a triangular piece of metal

Why is it possible to have two verbs here? Is one “was” a verbal? Is there two clauses here?

Hello Roses,

'All that was left' is the subject of the sentence. In terms of structure it contains a relative clause and is similar to this:

The man who worked at the bank was very nice.

In this sentence 'The man' is a noun phrase and 'who worked at the bank' is a relative clause describing the noun phrase.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

So is “All was a triangular piece of metal” an independent clause?
and is there a limit to how many questions I can ask?
and thank you for helping me

Hello Roses,

No, you can't use 'all' in that way. It can only be part of a larger subject: all I could see was... / all we had was... / all we need is... etc.

 

We don't limit the number of questions a person asks on the site, but we try to provide answers to as many users as we can, so we usually only answer one question from any particular user on any particular day. In other words, if you ask multiple questions then you might have to wait a little longer for your answer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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