# Relative pronouns and relative clauses

Learn about relative pronouns and relative clauses and do the exercises to practise using them.

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)

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.

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Submitted by Sokhom on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 12:55

In reply to by Jonathan R

Thank you very much for your precise explanation. :) I wanted to know if the two sentences are equivalent. e.g. Where she lives is a mystery. e.g. The place where she lives is a mystery. So, if I separate the sentence 'where she lives is a mystery' into 2 clauses, I get: 1. Independent clause: ('the place') which is fused + is a mystery 2. Dependent clause: where she lives (or which she lives in) Is it right to separate the clauses like like those above? Thank you for your time. Best Wishes!

Hi Sokhom,

The two sentences are equivalent in meaning. But they are structurally different.

I think your analysis is right for the second example. But in example 1, is a mystery can't be an independent clause (because it's not a complete sentence if it stands alone). So, I understand the whole of example 1 as a single independent clause.

Only example 1 has a fused relative clause. 'Fused' means that the relative clause functions as a noun (in contrast, in example 2, it functions as an adjective describing the noun place).

Best wishes also to you!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sokhom on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 12:36

In reply to by Jonathan R

Thank you very much for your time and explanation. I still doubt the term 'a free relative clause' and 'a noun clause'. 1. Where she lives is a mystery. + independent clause: the place is a mystery (the subject of the clause is 'the place' which is fused). + dependent clause: 'which she lives in' is a bound relative clause which functions as an adjective. I think that if I separate like this, "where she lives" is a free relative clause. 2. Where she lives is a mystery. + independent clause: Where she lives is a mystery + Dependent clause: where she lives (a noun clause which functions as subject). So, "where she lives" is a noun clause, not 'a relative clause' because 'an adjectival (a free relative clause' should not be functioned as a subject of a sentence. Therefore, personally whether a clause is 'a free relative clause' or 'a noun clause' depends on how one separates the sentence. I wanted to know if I was right or wrong. Best Wishes!

Hi Sokhom,

For 1, I think the example sentence may be wrong?

For 2, 'where she lives' is a relative clause - it's a free relative clause. It is also a noun clause.

For clarification, here are the two types of relative clause:

• free/fused (function as nouns, e.g. Where she lives is a mystery.)
• bound (function as adjectives, e.g. The place where she lives is a mystery.)

I should point out that we don't actually use the terms 'free'/'bound' here on this website. (As I mentioned in my first message, there are different terms belonging to different analytical traditions.) It might be better to follow up with some resources which do use those terms and may go into more depth than we can here - for example, you might find this page useful. I hope it helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Thu, 08/07/2021 - 07:47

Hello. Could you please help me? Which one is correct or both are? Why? 1- There is a lot of beer in the fridge but there isn't much of which I like. 2- There is a lot of beer in the fridge but there isn't much that I like. Thank you.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

This is a slightly odd situation because 'beer' is used an uncount noun, but the point seems to be that there are different kinds of beer. When distinguishing between different brands or types of beer, we often use it as a count noun (e.g. 'There are lots of different beers but none that I like').

1 is not correct: you could say 'much of what I like' or 'much of the kind I like' or 'much of the ones I like', but not 'much of which I like'. 2 is OK I suppose, but as I explained earlier, I'd probably use the count noun form here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Sat, 29/05/2021 - 14:11

Hello. Could you help me choose the correct answer? - Much (that - which) your father has said shows that he is angry. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I'd say 'that' instead of 'which', but I'm not sure I'd say that 'which' is wrong.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello teacher KirK, in this case should we say, much of that/which your father has said shows that he is angry. I mean should we put the preposition 'of' before that/which? Thanks.

Hello Maahir,

If you use 'of', then actually you have to use both 'that' and 'which'! In other words, with 'of', the correct sentence is 'Much of that which he said ...' In this case, 'that' is not a relative pronoun but a pronoun, and 'which' is the relative pronoun.

It might be easier to think of the sentence with a noun instead of the pronoun 'that', for example 'Many of the stories which he told ...'

In the case of 'Much that (or 'Much which') he said ...', both 'that' and 'which' are relative pronouns.

Hope that makes sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Tue, 04/05/2021 - 10:14

Hello. Which relative is correct in the following sentence? Why? 1- This is the best which he can do for you. 2- This is the best that he can do for you. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Although both are grammatically possible, I think that is the natural choice here. We tend not to use who or which in constructions such as this, where the noun is omitted (the best thing).

That said, I think the majority of speakers would omit the relative pronoun altogether: This is the best he can do for you.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Mon, 26/04/2021 - 19:23

Hello. Is the following sentence correct? I can't understand it. What is its structure? How can I divide it into 2 simple sentences? "That the rate of educated women has doubled since 1970s is related to their education." Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

That sentence is a little odd. I'd suggest changing the beginning to 'The fact that the rate ...'. That would make it grammatically correct, but the logic appears circular to me.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by hoando124 on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 10:25

Hello! I've been thinking about this sentence a lot: "Lily and her dogs, ... go out for a walk everyday, haven't had time to do that recently. It's supposed to be a "that" to be filled in the blank if it was a defining relative clause. However, it's a non-defining one thus a "that" cannot be used here. So please help me with this. Thank you so much!

Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 13:33

Hi hoando124,

I would use who here, as Lily is a person. :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Isa H. Sedeto on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 13:31

Hello! How can we differenciate on which from whose? Thanks!

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Wed, 17/02/2021 - 07:13

In reply to by Isa H. Sedeto

Hello Isa,

'whose' always includes the idea of possession, and usually the possessor is a person, animal or organisation (which is composed of people).

'which', on the other hand, refers to an object or idea, but doesn't include the idea of possession or a person that possesses something.

Does that help? If you have a specific sentence you would like to ask us about, please feel free to do that.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lmho on Thu, 04/02/2021 - 15:37

Hello, thanks for the content! I don't know whether this has been stated before: I just wanted to let you know that Lagos isn't the capital of Nigeria (task 3).

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Fri, 05/02/2021 - 08:39

Hello Imho,

Thanks very much for telling us about this mistake! I've just fixed it, though it may take a few hours for the change to appear on the site.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ClaireUB78 on Fri, 15/01/2021 - 09:27

Hello Peter M. Thank you very much for clarifying that for me!

Submitted by ClaireUB78 on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 11:31

Hello, I am doing activities using relative pronouns and linking expressions. There is an exercise that I have to tick the ones that are correct and replace the relative pronoun in those that are wrong. "It was not until I was seventeen that I started writing down all what happened to me every day." I know that "what happened" is wrong and I should replace it with "that happened" but I´m not sure why, it just sounds right to me. I mean why can´t it be replaced with "which" as we use that relative pronoun for things also. Please help.

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 14/01/2021 - 08:12

Hello ClaireUB78,

'What' is not used in relative clauses in English. You can use the relative pronouns who (whom), which and that.

After 'all' we use that rather than who or which in modern English. The use of who or which is not ungrammatical but it sounds archaic to the modern ear.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Roses on Fri, 08/01/2021 - 10:53

Someone told me that there is no such thing as a noun clause. Is that true? What I had forgotten was that I had a test today Is “what I had forgotten” a noun phrase or a noun clause in the sentence above Someone told me it was a noun phrase but I don’t believe that because it’s said everywhere on the internet that a noun phrase does not have a subject and verb pairing Please help me understand this

Submitted by Roses on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 07:32

I have another question about this other sentence: They may be coming sooner than we expected Someone told me that the word ‘be’ in this sentence was a bare infinitive Or is the word ‘be’ in this sentence a helping verb? Is the word ‘coming’ in this sentence a verbal? What tense is this sentence in? I think it’s in progressive tense but it doesn’t match up with how any of the progressive tenses are formed so I’m a bit confused. I already know that ‘may’ is a modal verb and that ‘may be coming’ is suppose to be a verb phrase

Hello Roses,

The modal verb 'may' is followed by an infinitive without 'to', but there are different forms of the infinitive. Here, you have a continuous infinitive formed with be + verb-ing.

There are many infinitive forms. For example:

He may come... > infinitive

He may be coming... > continuous infinitive

He may have come... > perfect infinitive

He may be stopped... > passive infintive

He may have been stopped... > perfect passive infinitive

He may have been being stopped... > perfect passive continuous infinitive

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Roses on Wed, 06/01/2021 - 02:51

All that was left was a triangular piece of metal Why is it possible to have two verbs here? Is one “was” a verbal? Is there two clauses here?

Hello Roses,

'All that was left' is the subject of the sentence. In terms of structure it contains a relative clause and is similar to this:

The man who worked at the bank was very nice.

In this sentence 'The man' is a noun phrase and 'who worked at the bank' is a relative clause describing the noun phrase.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

So is “All was a triangular piece of metal” an independent clause? and is there a limit to how many questions I can ask? and thank you for helping me

Hello Roses,

No, you can't use 'all' in that way. It can only be part of a larger subject: all I could see was... / all we had was... / all we need is... etc.

We don't limit the number of questions a person asks on the site, but we try to provide answers to as many users as we can, so we usually only answer one question from any particular user on any particular day. In other words, if you ask multiple questions then you might have to wait a little longer for your answer.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Is a relative clause and subordinate clause the same thing? Is “that was left” a subordinate clause? Someone told me that “All that was left” was a noun phrase is that true? Is the part “was a triangular piece of metal” a verb phrase? Is a main verb and finite verb the same thing?

Hello Roses,

Relative clauses are one kind of subordinate clause; there are other kinds.

In your example 'all' is a pronoun and 'that was left' is a relative clause describing it; 'all that was left' is a noun phrase functioning as the subject of the sentence.

'...was a triangular piece of metal' is a verb phrase consisting of a verb with its complement.

The term 'finite verb' is used to describe those verb forms which has a subject and can be used to form an independent clause. In other words, finite verbs are verb forms other than the infinitive, participles and gerunds.

'Main verb' is a descriptive term used to contrast with auxiliary verbs.

I hope those answers clarify it for you. Please note that this is a site focused on language learning and use rather than linguistic analysis. Where analysing the language in this way helps with language learning we're happy to do it, but we try to avoid an overly technical focus on terminology and sentence analysis for the most part.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shortie Dork on Sun, 27/12/2020 - 14:13

Hello i want to ask Which is correct: - I was invited by the professor who / whom i met at the conference
Hi , According to me it should be: I was invited by the professor whom i met at the conference.

Hello Shortie Dork,

Both are grammatically possible.

The relative pronoun is the object of the verb 'met', so it is possible to use whom. However, use of whom is disappearing in modern English other than when it directly follows a preposition (to whom, for whom etc), so who is the more common option.

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/relative-pronouns-and-relative-clauses

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Shoaib50 on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 10:52

Hi Team, Please need your comments on following sentences. 1. The man kept a bag under the table which had four curved legs. 2. The man kept a bag under the table. This had four curved legs. which is correct and why ?

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 16:23

Hello Shoaib50,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. It's a little unusual, though, to use the word 'this' (in 2). I would recommend something like 'The man kept a bag under the table with four curved legs', but 1 is also fine.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you so much . One more please. The man kept bag under the table. In above example table is object of preposition. lets assume if i want to tell about bag then how can we do it. My teacher told me if you use relative pronoun then it must close its antecedent, so how can we write ? Please also mention can we describe object of preposition with relative pronoun. example. My uncle lives in Germany whom i borrowed money to.
sorry Correction My uncle lives in Germany whom i borrowed money from.

Hello again Shoaib50,

It's grammatically possible to say something like 'The man kept his bag, which was red, under the table'. I wouldn't use a relative clause after 'under the table' to refer to the bag, because it could be difficult to know what its antecedent is.

The last sentence you ask about is not grammatically correct. You'd have to put the relative clause closer to the antecedent ('My uncle, who I borrowed money from, lives in Germany.').

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yigitcan on Sat, 28/11/2020 - 18:20

Hello team, I want to ask two questions 1-'' A tablet is a gadget which/that/who is used by many people. '' Why '' who''is in the possible answers?' 'Who'for people. 2-' 'The west of London is where theatre actors dream of performing.' 'Is this sentence true? because ''where''must after the noun. Also Thank you, site is very useful. I have been improving my English.

Hello Yigitcan,

'Who' is not correct in your first example. I'm not sure where the question is from, but the person who wrote the key clearly made a mistake. If the question is from our site then please let us know where it is so that we can correct the error.

'Where' is correct in your second example. The meaning is similar to 'the place in which'.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by camillemw on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 08:29

hello ! Is the following sentence correct ? The people whom he remembers wore brightly coloured clothes. thank you !

Submitted by Kirk Moore on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 10:07

Hello camillemw,

Yes, it is correct, though most people just say 'The people he remembers' or 'The people who he remembers'. The relative pronoun is often omitted when it's the object of a verb in the relative clause.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmeds230 on Tue, 20/10/2020 - 18:50

Hello! -We didn't know to "where" or "which" she went after she left. >Which is correct to choose? "Where" or "which"?

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 21/10/2020 - 08:49

Hello Ahmeds230,

You can use 'where' provided you don't use 'to':

We didn't know where she went.

When you use 'to', you need to use a pronoun such as 'which', but you need to add more information:

We didn't know which place she went to. [more common]

We didn't know to which place she went. [less common]

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your answer! Just to clarify my question, here's the full sentence: -We didn't know to ... she went after she left home. > I realize we can't use "where" here because there is "to" but it also doesn't make sense to me using "where" without a place being mentioned so...is the question wrong, or is it "which" the right choice here?

Hello Ahmeds230,

As I said, after the preposition 'to' you need a pronoun rather than the adverb 'where', so that option is not possible.

'Which' can follow a preposition, but it is a pronoun which needs a referent. In other words, there must be a context which identifies the places referred to by 'which'. For example:

There were two options: the warehouse or the office, but we didn't know to which she went after she left home.

Without a context like this, I would say that 'which' does not make sense.

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for clarifying this to me, but as a last effort to make sense of this sentence: -Would "whom" work in that sentence instead? >We didn't know to "whom" she went after she left home. Is that sentence correct, or still wouldn't make sense with "whom"?