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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

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

Hi sir,
I read news yesterday. One of the sentences said "Disposable masks contain plastics which pollute water and can harm wildlife who eat them or become tangled in them"
Could you please tell me why it used "who eat them ..." since I checked dictionary and found 'wildlife' is animals? Why didnt it use 'which' instead?
Thank you,sir

Hello Risa warysha,

Like you, I would use a different pronoun here, like 'that' but not 'who'. Strictly speaking, it's not correct to use 'who' here. I'm afraid I don't know why the writer used it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I have doubts with the following two sentences, which one is correct? Or both?
Mr. Chan is the chef who is preparing a banquet for us.
Mr. Chan who is preparing a banquet for us is the chef.
Thanks

Hello willleong,

The first is correct.

With a couple of commas around the non-defining relative clause ('Mr. Chan, who is preparing a banquet for us, is the chef.'), the second one is also correct. But it's not correct without the commas.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much, Kirk

Hi, I've got a question. Is the sentence below correct ?
"The school where all the local children attended shut down because its water supply contained toxic chemicals."

The use of (where) as a relative clause is correct ??
Thanks

Hello Nimispencer,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct. The relative pronoun 'where' replaces a preposition + 'which'. In this case, you have the verb 'attend', which is not followed by a preposition, and so it's not correct to use 'where'. What I'd recommend here is 'The school the local children attended was shut down ...'

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir, Can where be use as a preposition?

Hello Mr. R,

I would like to ask you what kind of relative clause is to be found in the following sentences:

1. "There are a few stages which are common to both and seem obligatory for the category of letter and some for the genre of Complaint letter irrespective of register."

In this case, I would say that "which are common to both and seem obligatory for the category of letter and some for the genre of Complaint letter irrespective of register" is the RC defining stages -> therefore, it is an Object RC.

2. "There are several different methods of instruction, all of which focus on a particular area of language learning theory and suggest particular methods of teaching , some more controversial than others."

The RC "of which focus on a particular area of language learning theory and suggest particular methods of teaching, some more controversial than others" defines the word 'all' what in turn refers to "several different methods of instruction". But is it then again an Object RC or a Subject RC (so that 'all' is the subject of the sentence)?

3. "She has been a very willing and communicative case study, who in spite of a certain initial shyness has been extremely forthcoming about her experiences to date."

The RC "who in spite of a certain initial shyness has been extremely forthcoming about her experiences to date" defines 'case study'. As "a very willing and communicative case study" is a subject preticate and not an object, what kind of RC is this then? Is it a subject or object RC?

Thank you very much in advance!
All the best, Nehir.

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