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

The class which I joined was very interesting.
The class where I joined was very interesting.
The class that I joined was very interesting.
Which sentence is grammatically wrong?
Thanks

Hello jafari2002

The second sentence is not correct. A class is not a place and so the relative pronoun 'where' is not appropriate there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

When we write "we live in an era when/where every actions and conversations are monitored through CCTV cameras and smartphones"
Which relative pronoun is correct between when and where?
"When" sounds unatural to me but I can't explain why for this particular word...

Hello Fareyal
'when' is better than 'where' here, since an era is a period of time and not a place. 'in which' is also a good option here, though it's a little more formal than 'when' -- depending on the situation, this might be more or less appropriate.
All the best
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,
In the following sentences, is the use of the demonstrative pronoun "this" grammatically correct and/or acceptable in exams such as IELTS?

I hold a bachelor's degree. That is the reason why I was eligible to apply for the job.

I ask this question as I read in some of the websites related to grammar that the pronouns "which", "that", "this" cannot refer to a group of words, such as a sentence.

Hello sam61
Yes, you have used 'that' correctly in this series of sentences. It is also possible to say 'this' in this case.
The three pronouns you mention are quite versatile and can be used to refer to the ideas expressed in phrases, sentences or even multiple related sentences.
All the best
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,

Good day!

I am just newly registered on this page. I have come across this website while trying to look for an answer to the grammatical structure of relative/ adjective clauses that has put me in a state of quandary.

My question is, "is the tense in a relative/adjective clause independent of the tense in the main clause all the time?" If not, could you please provide me example of a relative clause that depends it tense on the tense of the main clause.

Example: The woman (whom) you met a week ago is my cousin.
The woman who will call you tomorrow is my secretary.
This is the house where the woman was murdered.
The boy who was bullying our kid when he was in elementary is
the president's son.

Thank you!

Hello mik0303

As far as I can think, the times of the two clauses are independent. Perhaps there could be particular situation in which they have to be the same, but if such an example exists, it would generally be clear from the context. 

Does that make sense? If you find a counterexample of this, please do share it -- this kind of question is very difficult to answer, because there are so many possibilities!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Great that you are online.

Well, I am not sure if the below sentence is logical or semantically possible, but this is the only example that I could think of right now.

"That was the spot where the treasure was found."

I don't know if the use of "was" is logical in the given example. Using the past form would convey the idea that the spot is no longer there.

Being a native speaker, what does your intuition tell you about the example?

Thanks!

Hi mik0303,

The sentence

That was the spot where the treasure was found

is perfectly fine. It may mean that the spot is no longer there, or have a different meaning. For example, it may be part of a narrative (We went along the path until we reached a clearing. That was the spot where...), for example, as a person describes their memory of the spot.

 

Verb forms in relative clauses are independent of the main cause but still need to be consistent in terms of logic (causes taking place before results, for example).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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