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)

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

Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 07:52

Hi Tim,

Yes, the relative clause is still a relative clause. It is usually called an adverb relative clause.

You need to distinguish between the adverb (when, where, why) and the clause as a whole. The function of the adverb is to head the clause and act as a connector with the rest of the sentence. The function of the clause as a whole is adjectival, as you say. In other words, the relative adverb is part of an adjectival clause.

You can often replace the relative adverb with a preposition and a relative pronoun:

Tuesday is the day on which we have pizza.

Adverbs are perhaps the broadest category of word in English and sometimes the category is controversial for this reason, being seen as a catch-all category whose members have an extraordinary range of functions. You can see some of these under these links:

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 12/06/2020 - 14:43

Why are relative clauses also called adjective clauses?

Hello Tim,

Relative clauses provide information about a noun (or noun phrase) so their function in the sentence is adjectival. That is why they are sometimes called adjective clauses.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Erwin Smith on Thu, 11/06/2020 - 18:12

Hello I have a question concerning the relative pronouns "who/whom". (who) is used as a subject of a verb and (whom) as an object of a verb or preposition. When I was doing an exercise about determining whether the relative pronoun a subject pronoun or object pronoun I found these sentences: 1. Do you know the girl who I danced with? 2. This is the man who Barbara visited in Scotland. I think they should normally be with (whom) not with (who). I know that it is used in spoken or informal language but what about formal or Academic English, is it correct to use (who) instead of (whom) when it functions as an object? thanks in advance!

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 12/06/2020 - 09:15

In reply to by Erwin Smith

Hello Erwin Smith

That's correct -- in informal situations, and even in some formal ones, people often use 'who' instead of 'whom'. There's quite a bit of variation in formal and academic writing and speaking -- sometimes you see or hear 'whom' and sometimes 'who'. It's difficult to give advice without knowing more about your situation, but you might perhaps use 'whom' in writing but 'who' in speaking.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Sun, 07/06/2020 - 23:52

It's really great.

Submitted by heoquay193 on Thu, 07/05/2020 - 09:03

I got confused whether or not there's a comma here: I have a friend (,) who collects stamp. I think "I have a friend." is grammatically correct and it can stand alone as a full sentence. Is the comma necessary? Thank you.

Hello heoquay193,

Although we don't have the context, I think it is clear that this is a defining relative clause (identifying which friend you have in mind) rather than a non-defining relative clause (providing extra but unnecessary information). Defining relative clauses are not separated by a commas, so no comma should be used.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed2020 on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 05:16

I think these examples are like that: 1- A stunt person is someone who ''stands in'' for an actor during dangerous scenes. Defined 2- A computer-graphics supervisor who needs advanced technical knowledge often spends millions of dollars on computer graphics. Non-defined 3- A stagehand is the person who moves the sets of stage in a theater production. Defined 4- A movie producer who controls the budget decides how money will be spent. it is defined as well, because people do not know about this job. Am I right?

Submitted by Ahmed2020 on Sat, 02/05/2020 - 05:08

Hello Teachers I have a question which has been puzzled me a lot. When it it comes to the different now types, is there any difference between them? For example are common, proper, abstract collective or job titles like ''stagehand'' or ''computer-graphics supervise'' must always be defined on Non-defined? I will appreciate providing examples.

Hello Ahmed2020,

I think you're a little confused with the terminology here. Defining and non-defining in the context of this page refer to relative clauses, not to nouns. They describe particular grammatical constructions:

> defining relative clauses identify the particular item being described (more here)

> non-defining relative clauses give extra, non-essential information about the item being described (more here)

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nguyen Quoc Cuong on Mon, 27/04/2020 - 21:49

Hello. I'm not clear which of these two sentences is dramatically correct. 1. The works that involve person-to-person interactions... 2. The works that involves person-to-person interactions... Thank for your explanation in advance.

Hello Nguyen Quoc Cuong

The first one is grammatically correct: the verb 'involve' agrees with the plural noun 'works'. In 2, 'involves' would agree with the subject 'work', but not 'works'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by NisaMsaraa on Mon, 27/04/2020 - 06:51

Hi, how would you combine these sentences with relative pronouns? 1. Look at that old school. I used to go there. 2. These earrings are lovely. My sister bought them for me. Thank you!

Hello NisaMsaraa

You could say:

1. Look at the old school that I used to go to.
2. The earrings my sister bought for me are lovely.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tamigorositt on Sat, 18/04/2020 - 00:49

how would you change these into a sentence with relative pronouns? The person wasn´t Michael. You met him. I can´t remember the hotel in which we stayed. Thankssss!

Hello Tamigorositt,

The sentences in the first example can be joined with who or that:

The person who/that you met wasn't Michael.

You could omit the relative pronoun:

The person you met wasn't Michael.

Your second example can be rewritten with a relative adverb, not a relative pronoun:

I can't remember the hotel where we stayed.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by GalaxyWolf-Dra… on Thu, 02/04/2020 - 10:10

How would you change these into a sentence with relative pronouns? -Micheal announced the results. He had a really loud voice. -The form with the best results won a cup. The cup was presented by Mr. Cadogan. Thanks!

Hello GalaxyWolf-Dragon6786

There are different ways you could combine the first one:

Michael, who had a really loud voice, announced the results.
Michael, who announced the results, had a really loud voice.

For the second one I'd say 'The form with the best results won the cup, which was presented by Mr Cadogan.'

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Noorsleiman09 on Tue, 31/03/2020 - 09:14

Hello teachers, are the following sentences correct? Clara’s dad, who is 78, retired last week. The fire, which started from faulty wiring, didn’t get put out until 3am. A few students- who are in 6th grade- planned a party.

Hello Noorsleiman09

The first two are fine, but the third is a bit awkward. Different writers and editors also have different opinions about the use of dashes, so in general I'd avoid them if possible. Instead, I'd write something like 'A few 6th-grade students planned a party'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 19:10

Hello. I'd really like to appreciate your help. You have improved our understanding of English. Today, we had a discussion about relatives. A colleague said the following sentence: I can't achieve all which I want. However, some other colleagues objected to using " which" after "all" saying that it's wrong. What is the correct relative? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The correct form is as follows:

I can't achieve all (that) I want.

I think in the past all which was a more common form, but it has largely disappeared in modern English.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Niania on Fri, 07/02/2020 - 11:52

Hi, Can you tell me please why there should not be a comma in the following sentence (after the word range): Everest is part of a mountain range which stretches across the Himalayas. Thanks!

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 08/02/2020 - 07:46

Hello Niania,

The relative clause beginning which stretches... is a defining relative clause. It does not only add extra information to the sentence but actually defines the noun before it. In other words, it answers the question 'Which range?'

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by EmiiR on Fri, 07/02/2020 - 03:32

Hello teachers, I have a doubt with when In the sentence: "He started playing in the team when he was only 19", is "when he was only 19" a relative clause? if not, why? Thanks!

Hello EmiiR,

In this sentence, when is a subordinating conjunction. It introduces a dependent clause which has an adverbial function, giving us more information about the action in the main clause.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kaisoo93 on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 07:22

Hello Teachers, Can 'which' replace 'and' also? Are 4 of the following sentences correct? 1) Poor students being prevented from entering university excludes a large proportion of society and is discriminatory and can be avoided by getting rid of tuition fees. 2) Poor students being prevented from entering university excludes a large proportion of society and is discriminatory which can be avoided by getting rid of tuition fees. 3) Poor students being prevented from entering university excludes a large proportion of society which is discriminatory and can be avoided by getting rid of tuition fees 4) Poor students being prevented from entering university excludes a large proportion of society which is discriminatory can be avoided by getting rid of tuition fees. Thank you

Hello Kaisoo93

The first three could be correct, though I'd choose sentence 3 and put a comma after 'society'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zhouyoumin on Wed, 18/12/2019 - 11:37

Hello! Someone asked me which of these sentences is correct: For you who dare to dream. For you who dares to dream. For you who are bold. For you who is bold. I thought it should depend on whether 'you' referred to one or many people. But when I looked for examples on this sentence pattern, I only got more confused! What if the sentence started with "It is you..."? It is you who dare to dream. It is you who dares to dream. It is you who are wrong. It is you who is wrong. Would really appreciate some tips on how to figure these out. Thanks!

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 19/12/2019 - 07:27

Hello zhouyoumin,

You are correct that the question is whether or not 'you' refers to many people or one person.

The pattern with 'It is...' does not change this. 'It is...' here creates a cleft sentence and can be used with both singular and plural nouns:

It is this person who I need to meet.

It is these people who I need to meet.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply, Peter. I enjoyed reading all the examples on cleft sentences in the link. Could you help clarify one more thing, please? Back to this example with the verb 'be'. It is you who are wrong. It is you who is wrong. Which is correct? Do we say 'It is you who are wrong.' because the pronoun 'you' takes a plural verb ==> are Or would it be better to say 'It is you who is wrong." because 'you' is a singular subject? In this example (https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/cleft-sentence): 'You stole the money' can be rewritten as ‘It was you who stole the money'. So, would it mean that 'You are wrong' should be rewritten as 'It is you who are wrong'?

Hello again zhouyoumin,

I have heard both forms used in modern English. My own preference is for 'is', which keeps 'who' as a third-person form. For example, all of these sound perfectly fine to me:

It is Paul who is in charge here.

It is you who is in charge here.

It is I who is in charge here.

However, a sentence like this one sounds very unnatural to me:

It is I who am in charge here.

The example 'It was you who stole the money' does not help in any way because 'stole' is a past form, and so has no marker for person. However, you could say 'It is you who steals the money'.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gospodincoek on Tue, 10/12/2019 - 22:21

Hello,I had a test today and i'm not sure about one question: Keisha is the youngest of her 3 sisters.She was born in 1995. Please answer me as fast as possible.

Hello Gospodincoek,

We'll be happy to give you some advice but I can't see what your question is. What did you have to do in the test?

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Darshanie Ratnawalli on Thu, 05/12/2019 - 08:07

There has been a bit of a commotion in Sri Lanka about the use of a relative clause in Britain. In the Conservative Party's election manifesto, a relative clause beginning with 'where' has been used after a list of words, separated by a comma from the last word of the list. In Sri Lanka, the understanding is that the relative clause in this case refers to the whole list, though according to the Conservative Party, the relative clause only applies to the last word in the list. The sentence is- "We will continue to support international initiatives to achieve reconciliation, stability and justice across the world, and in the former conflict zones such as Cyprus, Sri Lanka and the Middle East, where we maintain our support for a two-state solution." Now, what is the grammar rule, which if taught in SL schools, would have helped to avoid the misunderstanding?

Hello Darshanie Ratnawalli,

In my opinion, the sentence is ambiguous. The relative clause refers to the item preceding it, but this could be the entire list ("the former conflict zones such as Cyprus, Sri Lanka and the Middle East") or it could be only the final item ("the Middle East").

Because the sentence is ambiguous, the only way to identify the referent would be to check other sources to confirm party policy.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fleep on Sat, 30/11/2019 - 18:31

Former English instructor here. I came across a headline this morning on a major news organization and cringed at the error on the front webpage main article of the day. It needs the word "what" inserted. I also want to identify the grammar structure and thought at first it was a relative pronoun. However, after perusing the standard list of relative pronouns, I thought secondly that it was missing an object pronoun....But I don't know if that is right either. In the below headline, if we insert "what" between "in" and "he", what grammar tool/structure is "what"? I cannot upload a simple screen shot here so I will copy the headline and provide a link to CNN. https://------------------------------------------------------------------------ "The President must decide whether to legitimize the impeachment inquiry by allowing his lawyers to participate or refuse to take part in [WHAT] he says is a sham"

Hello Fleep,

You are quite correct that there is an error in the sentence. In fact, I would say that there is a second error. In the sentence as written the refusal relates to the lawyers, whereas it should relate to the President:

...to legitimize the impeachment inquiry by allowing his lawyers to participate or refuse to take part... [the lawyers participate or refuse]

...to legitimize the impeachment inquiry by allowing his lawyers to participate or refusing to take part... [the President allows or refuses]

As far as the structure goes, what he says is a sham is a relative clause. This type of relative clause is a free relative clause, that is to say it is a relative clause which does not refer directly back to an element in the sentence.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_clause#Bound_and_free

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ah yes there are two errors. And first time I heard of "free" relative clauses. Thanks.

Submitted by Boaz on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 14:29

I don’t understand whom

Hello Boaz

I'll explain it in a little more detail for you to see if that helps. 'whom' is only used when the person is talks about is the object of a verb. For example, in the sentence 'This is George, whom you met at our house last year', 'whom' is the object of the verb 'met'.

In contrast, in the sentence 'George is the man who is sitting near the door', 'who' is the subject of the verb 'is sitting'.

One other important detail is that nowadays it's very common for people to say 'who' instead of 'whom'. In other words, the first sentence could also be 'This is George, who you met at our house last year' and still be correct.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sumanasc on Wed, 13/11/2019 - 12:26

Hello Use "Who' and join the two sentences. The boy came to the class. He is a newcomer. a. The boy who came to the class is a newcomer. b.The boy came to the class who is a newcomer. Please let me know which one is correct and why. Many Thanks Christine

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 08:09

Hello Christine,

The first sentence (a) is correct. The relative clause (beginning with the relative pronoun 'who') should follow the noun which it describes. Here, that noun is 'The boy'.

The second sentence separates the relative pronoun from its referent, and this is the mistake in the sentence.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Quynh Nhu on Tue, 12/11/2019 - 15:54

Dear sir, Can I ask what is the correct answer for this question: "I can’t find the files ……………I saved all the important information. A.WHERE B.WHICH C.WHY D.WHEN My friend chose B because he said "which" modifies for things (in this case: "the files"). In my opinion, which is a right answer only in 2 cases. First, "I can’t find the files which I saved "(which plays a role as a object of verb "saved" ). Second, I can’t find the files in which/where I saved all the important information (which plays as a object of prep "in"). So the answer must be A. Please clarify it to me.. Thankyou so much.

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 08:59

In reply to by Quynh Nhu

Hello Quynh Nhu

I agree with your answer -- A is the only possibility here, though B would be correct if it were 'in which' or if 'in' was added after 'information'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jpreston on Sat, 09/11/2019 - 14:57

Hello I'm a newbie to Grammar. How would you explain past-tense to an object - so... Yesterday I was... then referring to a park bench... a local homeless man usually occupied, either sitting or lying down, but today it was empty. How would you write today it was empty, whilst keeping past tense? Thanks.

Hello jpreston,

I'm afraid I don't understand your question. The phrase 'today it was empty' is perfectly fine and uses a past tense. You seem to be asking how you would change something which does not need changing to fit your criteria.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by loko99 on Mon, 04/11/2019 - 13:18