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

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTU4ODQ=

Relative pronouns 2

GapFillTyping_MTU4ODY=

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

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTU4OTE=

Relative pronouns 4

GapFillTyping_MTU4OTI=

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

MultipleSelection_MTU4OTM=

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

GapFillTyping_MTU4OTQ=

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.

 

Average
Average: 4.5 (175 votes)

Submitted by Ken on Tue, 21/08/2018 - 02:00

Permalink
Hi! I has been reading a lot of references and a grammar book. And I still don't know what's the POSSIBLE role of relative prouns. And, can a relative pronoun be subject complement of relative clause? Please tell me. These are references from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_relative_clauses https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_pronoun#Role_of_relative_pronoun
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 21/08/2018 - 06:34

In reply to by Ken

Permalink

Hi Ken,

The list of roles in your second link is fine. Sometimes an adverbial function is attributed, but the item is then a relative adverb rather than a relative pronoun.

Relative pronouns can act as the subject (not subject complement) of the relative clause.

If you have a particular example in mind we'll be happy to comment on it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ken on Tue, 21/08/2018 - 10:04

In reply to by Peter M.

Permalink
Hi! Is this sentece, '' He is not the man that he once was. '', grammatical?I saw this sentence on my grammar book. If it is grammatical , what's the role of '' that ''? Thank you.
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 22/08/2018 - 08:27

In reply to by Ken

Permalink

Hi Ken,

The sentence is correct. 'That' is a relative pronoun introducing a defining relative clause. You could replace 'that' with 'who'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by kakakevin on Mon, 13/08/2018 - 08:59

Permalink
Hello, I read that "that" is used for defining clauses, whereas "which" is used for non-defining clauses. In this sentence, should I use "that" instead of "which”? "The carpets which you bought are gone.” Thank you very much
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 14/08/2018 - 06:13

In reply to by kakakevin

Permalink

Hello kakakevin,

We can use both 'that' and 'which' in defining relative clauses, but we cannot use 'that' in non-defining relative clauses.

Your example sentence contains a defining relative clause and so both 'that' and 'which' are possible; neither is incorrect.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amirfd on Fri, 13/07/2018 - 20:02

Permalink
Hello Peter. I was woken up by some strange noise ......... the apartment above mine. 1. which was coming from 2. which came from

Hello amirfd,

Both are possible here. Which you choose is a question of preference and context.

Generally, we don't provide answers to questions from elsewhere like this one. If we did, then we would end up doing people's homework and tests for them!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by omarmohamed99 on Tue, 05/06/2018 - 15:34

Permalink
in the fourth question i can't understand why the answer in "which but not that " could you explain this for me please ?

Hi omarmohamed99,

'which' is correct because it refers to the entire phrase before the comma. 'that' isn't used to refer to a situation or action in this way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lady Olenna on Sun, 20/05/2018 - 00:33

Permalink
Dear teachers, I have a question for you. I wrote this sentence in an essay: Tyrion Lannister is one of the characters of a Song of Ice and Fire who belong to the category of "cripples and bastards and broken things". I was corrected by someone who speaks a better English than me, but now I'm confused. She said that I should have written "belongs" instead of "belong", and that "who" is always used with the third person. I had used a plural word because the verb refers to a group of people. Could you help me to better understand? Thanks in advance!

Hello Lady Olenna,

Both forms are possible, with a small shift in meaning.

 

Tyrion Lannister is one of the characters of a Song of Ice and Fire who belongs to the category of "cripples and bastards and broken things".

 

 

The singular verb here tells us that it is Tyrion who belongs to this group: he is one of the characters of the book and he belongs to this category.

 

Tyrion Lannister is one of the characters of a Song of Ice and Fire who belong to the category of "cripples and bastards and broken things".

 

The plural verb here tells us that there are many characters who are in this category and Tyrion is one of them: there are a number of characters who belong to this category and Tyrion is one of them.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Fri, 06/04/2018 - 09:17

Permalink
Dear Sir Please help me to clarify this. When using relative pronouns for animals which is the correct? For e.g.The puppy which I bought is very cute. or The puppy that I bought is very cute. or The puppy who/whom I bought is very cute. Are all these correct or only the first and the second? Please let me know. Regards
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 07/04/2018 - 06:36

In reply to by Andrew international

Permalink

Hello Andrew international,

For animals we use which or that, not who.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user mitykg

Submitted by mitykg on Mon, 26/03/2018 - 15:09

Permalink
He tore up the photograph, ............... upset me......( I do not understand why my answer with 'which or that' is wrong ?) 'which' (but not 'that') 'which' or 'that' ---------------------------- They had four children, all of ............... went to university. ( my answer is ' who or that', what is wrong at my answer) 'who' or 'that' 'whom' ----------------------------- She wrote a best-selling book, the name of ............... I've completely forgotten.....(what's wrong with my answer for 'which or that' 'which' (but not 'that') 'which' or 'that'

Hi mitykg,

It appears that part of the explanation is missing from this page, which of course makes it more difficult to do the exercise correctly. I'm sorry about that and will look into fixing it.

In the meantime, I'll explain these for you. In the first one, only 'which' is correct because 'which' is used to refer to a situation or action -- here it refers to the man's tearing up of the photograph.

In the second one, only 'whom' is correct because it refers to people and because the relative pronoun in the object of the pronoun 'of'.

The third one is similar to the second one, except that the relative pronoun refers to a thing (a book). The relative pronoun is the object of the preposition 'of' and so only 'which' is correct, because only 'which' and 'whom' are used as objects of prepositions.

I hope this clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by shivamgetz on Fri, 23/02/2018 - 08:01

Permalink
Can I grammatically interchange "that" with "which" in the following sentences: This is the only pen, THAT i bought yesterday. My father has given me everything THAT I needed. This is the same man THAT deceived me. Is there any limitations of "which" with regard to numbers in the plural case.

Hello shivamgetz,

'which' can be used in both defining and non-defining relative clauses, whereas 'that' is used only in defining relative clauses. All three of the sentences you ask about have defining relative clauses, so you could indeed use 'which' instead (though note there should be no comma in the first sentence).

'which' can be used to refer to both singular and plural antecedents. I'm not sure if that's what you were asking -- if not, please give an example of what you mean.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Akash Rathore on Wed, 31/01/2018 - 04:38

Permalink
Hello Peter "My father likes Elliot's essays who was a masterpiece critic and reputed grammarian of English." Is the sentence correct? Thanks
Profile picture for user Kirk Moore

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Wed, 31/01/2018 - 17:32

In reply to by Akash Rathore

Permalink

Hello Akash,

No, I'm afraid it is not. The antecedent of 'who' cannot be 'essays', which is what the grammar of the sentence indicates. You could perhaps say something like 'My father likes Elliot's essays because he was a master critic and reputed grammarian'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Lutfullo

Submitted by Lutfullo on Sun, 21/01/2018 - 05:20

Permalink
HI)) Can we say "The Mona Lisa which painted by the Leonardo Da Vinci is in Louvre" ?

Hello Lutfullo,

That sentence is not quite correct. There are two ways to say this:

The Mona Lisa, which was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, is in Louvre.

The Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, is in Louvre.

You need to include the commas.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timmosky on Wed, 10/01/2018 - 10:39

Permalink
Is the usage of "who" and "whom" correct in these sentences. "She's the one who played the piano at the event." And "George, who is a funny man, died yesterday." This is Clara, whom I went to school with." "They are the ones who won the championship."

Hello Timmosky,

Yes, all of them are correct, though please note that 'whom' is quite uncommon in speaking nowadays. Most of the time, most people would use 'who' in your third sentence instead of 'whom'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abru on Tue, 01/09/2015 - 08:52

Permalink
That's a song ............... reminds me of my youth. isn't this a relative clause? plse explain