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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. Could you please tell me the difference between the following sentences?
1- I don't know the person who is at the door.
2- I don't know who the person is at the door.
3- I don't know who is the person at the door.
Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

They all mean the same thing. The word order in 3 is not correct in standard British English, but anyone would understand it and I expect you would hear many non-native speakers use this form.

If I were saying this, I'd probably say 'I don't know who the person at the door is' or 'I don't know who's at the door'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Can the pronoun which be used for people ?
As in this statement.

I do not remember which one I met first.
Thanks

Hello quickspot,

That sentence is fine.

Generally, we use who when we are talking about people and which when we are talking about things. However, when we use 'one' we do not use who:

I do not remember who I met first.

I do not remember which one I met first.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I have read these 2 sentences in a grammar book.
The first one to me is NOT complete. What do you call these types of sentences?
1.. The car which was parked downhill.

The second sentence is here,
2. There are so many people WHICH we already know,

In the 2 sentence we should have who instead of WHICH.

What is correct ?
Thanks

Hello quickspot,

You are right on both points. 1 is not a complete sentence and in 2, 'which' should not be used.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. are the following sentences correctly written with commas?

1- The man, whom I borrowed some money from, was helpful.

2- The man, who I borrowed some money from, was helpful.

Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

These sentences could be correct, but in most cases the sentence would probably be without commas: 'The man who I borrowed money from was helpful'. It depends on whether you're using the phrase 'who I borrowed money from' to specify which man you're talking about.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Is "most of which/whom" and "many of which/whom" are same. Please explain to me.

Hello Arjun Yadav,

There is a slight difference in meaning and form, though in many contexts you could use either.

 

In terms of form, most of can be used with countable or uncountable nouns; many of can only be used with countable nouns; for uncountable nouns we would use much of.

 

In terms of meaning, most of means the majority of. In other words, most of means clearly more than half.

Many of is a little less specific. It simply means that the speaker sees the number as large. It does not necessarily mean that it is more than 50%, though it most often will be.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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