1. The relative pronouns:

The relative pronouns are:
 

Subject  Object  Possessive
who whom, who whose
which which whose
that that  


We use who and whom for people, and which for things.
We use that for people or things.

We use relative pronouns to introduce relative clauses, which tell us more about people and things.

2. Relative clauses to postmodify a noun 

We use relative clauses to postmodify a noun - to make clear which person or thing we are talking about. In these clauses we can have the relative pronoun who, which, whose or that

  • as subject (see Clauses Sentences and Phrases)

Isn’t that the woman who lives across the road from you?
The police said the accident that happened last night was unavoidable
The newspaper reported that the tiger which killed its keeper has been put down.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

*The woman who [she] lives across the road…
*The tiger which [it] killed its keeper …

  • as object of a clause (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

Have you seen those people who we met on holiday?
You shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the newspaper.
The house that we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing which I enjoyed most about our holiday.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who when the relative pronoun is the object:

Have you seen those people whom we met on holiday?

- When the relative pronoun is object of its clause we sometimes leave it out:

Have you seen those people we met on holiday?
You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.
The house we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed most about our holiday.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

Have you seen those people who we met [them] on holiday?
The house that we rented [it] in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed [it] most about our holiday.

  • as object of a preposition. When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually put the preposition after the verb.:

You were talking to a woman >>> Who was the woman who you were talking to?
My parents live in that house >>> That’s the house that my parents live in.
You were talking about a book. I haven’t read it. >>> I haven’t read the book which you were talking about.

- When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually leave it out:

Who was the woman you were talking to?
That’s the house my parents live in.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who:

Who was that woman whom you were talking about.

- When we use whom, which or whose the preposition sometimes comes at the beginning of the clause:

I haven’t read the book about which you were talking.

- We can use the possessive form, whose, in a relative clause:

I always forget that woman’s name >>> That’s the woman whose name I always forget.
I met a man whose brother works in Moscow.

3. Times and places

We also 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 1996. 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.

... but we can leave out the word when:

England won the world cup in 1996. It was the year we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day the tsunami happened.

4. Giving additional information

 We use who, whom, whose, and which (but not that) in relative clauses to tell us more about a person or thing.

  • as subject (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

My uncle, who was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell’s 1984, which is one of the most frightening books ever written.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

My uncle, who [he] was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell’s 1984, which [it] is one of the most frightening books ever written.

  • as object (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed.
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw in “On the Waterfront”.

- we can use whom instead of who as object:

My favourite actor was Marlon Brando, whom I saw in “On the Waterfront”.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed [it].
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw [him] in “On the Waterfront”.

  • as object of a clause :

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired.
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited thirty years ago.

We can also use who as the object.

He finally met Paul McCartney, who he had always admired.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired [him].
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited [it] thirty years ago.

  • as object of a preposition:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, who he had read about in the newspaper.
That’s the programme which we listened to last night.

- We sometimes use whom instead of who:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, whom he had read about in the newspaper.

- The preposition sometimes comes in front of the relative pronoun whom or which:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, about whom he had read in the newspaper.
That’s the programme to which we listened last night.

5.  Quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns

 We often use quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns:

many of whom - most of whom - one of which - none of whom
some of which - lots of whom - two of which - etc.

We can use them as subject, object or object of a preposition.

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.

6. Using  "which" to give more information

We often use the relative pronoun which to say something about a clause:

He was usually late, which always annoyed his father.
We’ve missed our train, which means we may be late.

 

Rearrange the parts to make sentences.

Match the sentence halves.

Comments

Hello rjtkorea,

I expect that you could find numerous sentences like this one in a corpus, especially a corpus of spoken language, but also even some instances in writing. I wouldn't say this is because of the end-weight principle (in this case is the important information the fact that the General made the ship?), but rather the fact that we produce language, especially spoken language, on the fly and so sentences are not always formed in the most appropriate way.

Instead, I'd recommend either moving the clause earlier or changing the structure of the sentence, e.g. 'The Turtle Ship, made by General Yi Sun, is one of the great inventions of Korea' or 'One of the great Korean creations is the Turtle Ship, first invented by General Yi Sun'. In this last sentence, although it is not the last element, I'd say 'Turtle Ship' is still the most important information.

Another possibility would be to use a participle clause -- with your second sentence, for example, you could say 'Not being very good at singing, Kate didn't know what to do on stage'.

I hope this helps you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
I need some help on this sentence I wrote in an assignment. I wanted to emphasize on the subject so I wrote "It is the feeling of being supported that helps people through tough times". But my teacher corrected "that" to ", which" and I don't understand. Wouldn't "[comma] which" turn my sentence to a non-defining clause? I did ask my teacher about it but she just said I was wrong. Please help!

Hello BuiHa,

I think it would be best if you asked your teacher to explain this in more detail to you. Good luck!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,
I don't think that'll work but I'll try asking her again. Could you at least tell me if I used that structure correctly?

Hello BuiHa,

Yes, your sentence is a correctly-formed cleft sentence which puts emphasis on the feeling as a kind of support.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

Who is a pronoun that refers to a subject of a verb, and so is whom, but with a little difference which is that it refers to a object of a verb. So could we say ''whom is it?'' For example,
(John is at the door)
Walt asks, ''whom is it?'' (It is John)
It seems to me John is the object, but there's a doubt that ''is'' is a form of ''to be'', so I just really don't know if it's a proper verb.

Thank you in advance

Hello MCWSL,

In standard English, 'whom' is not used as the subject of a verb in the way you suggest -- it is only an object form.

In a sentence like 'It is John', 'it' is a dummy subject and the verb 'is' is used as a copula. If you follow the links, they might help you think about how these kinds of words work.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! I have some questions about the sentence "What I had to do was study." First of all, is 'what' being used as a relative pronoun in this case? Also, why is the predicate verb form simple present, as opposed to the past continuous 'was studying'? Is it dependent on the infinitive "to do"? Any help you could give would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Hello rktkorea,

This is an example of a cleft sentence, which uses a separate clause to emphasise a certain part of the sentence. For example:

I had to study last night. [simple sentence]

What I had to do last night was study. [complex sentence emphasising 'study']

The person who had to study last night was me. [complex sentence emphasising 'I' (me)]

The time when I had to study was last night. [complex sentence emphasising 'last night']

 

Cleft sentences can be seen, structurally speaking, as a particular kind of relative clause. There is a discussion of this and a good summary of cleft sentences in general, plus examples of the various types of cleft sentence, on this page.

 

When the emphasis is on the action (as in the first example above) the verb is always in the base form.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Can I write the sentence to:
" What I had to do last night was to study" or "What I had to do last night was studying" which 'studying' is a gerund
Thank you

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