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.

 

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Submitted by kosduong on Fri, 26/07/2013 - 09:10

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Dear All,

 

Thank you for you answer, it makes sense now. I would like to ask just a question more. In the 4th question of exercise, I can understand the sentence as "the photograph, which upset me, was torn", then the first solution is correct (which but not that). But can I understand the sentence as "the tearing of the photograph upset me"? In this case the second solution (which or that) can se chosen?

 

Thank you for help.

Hello kosduong,

The sentence actually has the second meaning - the tearing of the photograph is upsetting - rather than the first.  For it to have the first meaning you mention it would need to be written as a defining relative clause without the comma, as follows:

'He tore up the photograph which upset me'

The photograph is the upsetting thing

rather than:

'He tore up the photograph, which upset me'

The tearing is the upsetting thing

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by kosduong on Thu, 25/07/2013 - 10:13

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Dear All,

In the description I can se "we do no use that as a subject in relative clause", but in the exercises the solutions of the second, the third, the fourth, the sixth  and the eighth question don't prove it. Could you please help me to understand it more.

 

Thank you very much in advance

Dear Kosduong,

Yes, that sentence wasn't clear. We've changed it and it should make more sense now. Does that help?

Thanks for telling us - please let us know if you see any similar problems.

Best wishes,

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by dg7 on Mon, 15/04/2013 - 09:58

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Hi.

At the beginning of the page it is stated:
"But we do not use that as a subject in relative clauses."

The last two examples are:
"I had an uncle in Germany, that I inherited a bit of money from."
"We bought a chainsaw, that we cut all the wood up with."

Is it correct? Maybe the comma before "that" should be removed?

Thank you for your attention.

Hi,

We've changed the description so it's a bit clearer now. Thanks for pointing this out.

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by pachvak on Mon, 01/04/2013 - 20:18

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Hi British Council,

I would like to know if it is possible to provide justifications for true/wrong answers. For example, when I make a mistake on my answers, it would be fruitful to have automatic hints or guidelines for my mistakes/errors.

Thank you in advance

Hi Pachvak,

Thanks for your suggestion.

You should be able to work out the reason why your wrong answers are wrong from the text on the page. I think any feedback on errors would probably just repeat that information.

We could try writing advice for each wrong answer, but we have limited time and we think it's better to spend it on making new pages, rather than improving the pages we have.

Best wishes,

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by j_amarildo on Fri, 01/02/2013 - 21:19

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I think this answer more hard, but good. I make 89 points. This is so much complicated. :)

Submitted by sinti on Fri, 28/12/2012 - 11:29

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I  have a proposal to British Council Administration Department if possible to 

provide certificate after completion the activities , it 'll inspired the online student to more involve to online study like a social networking  British Council. 

Some Student or people who don't have the ability to do the curse from British Council and win the certificate. If 'learnenglishbritishcouncil.org '' provide certificate  

it 'll open new door of life who feel English is the most important part for social life.

 

Hello Sinti!

I agrree with you about how certificates encourage some students! We are looking at ways of doing this, but I can't make any promises. Just keep an eye on the website!

 

Best wishes

 

Jeremy Bee

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by maya764 on Wed, 31/10/2012 - 16:39

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please help me to improve my English knowledge

Submitted by Asiyoka on Tue, 24/07/2012 - 11:35

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It seems all the staff has gone on leave. Happy holiday!

Submitted by Kennycoconut on Tue, 17/07/2012 - 05:31

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i'm a new vietnamese member. i'd like to learn English, and be friends with anyone. Please help me.!!

Submitted by littlebear on Mon, 16/07/2012 - 10:44

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Hello everybody, I'm Phuong Anh. 

I want to improve my English, help me please. Thank you so much!

 

Submitted by lord0221 on Mon, 04/06/2012 - 13:57

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I am just wondering if we can use who after the only person.

Actually, what I learnt is that I cannot use who or which but that after the the only, the very, the same.

Can I really say "She is the only person who really understands me."?

Hello lord0221 -

 

Yes, you can use 'who' after 'the only person'! Your example is perfectly OK. You might be thinking about the difference between defining and non-defining clauses. Defining clauses give essential information, like in your sentence (the only person who – what? We need to know!). Non-defining clauses give additional information and use a comma before who, and you can't use ' the only person' and so on with a non-defining clause.

 

Hope that helps!

 

Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by vectrum on Mon, 23/04/2012 - 21:38

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Hello.

 

Can I use a preposition at the end of the sentence which has the objective relative pronoun "whom" ?

 

As for an example;

Is it correct to say;

'I had an uncle in Germany, whom I inherited a bit of money from.' ?

 

I've placed the preposition "from" at the end of the sentence.  Is it correct?

 

This lessons says the following;

"When whom 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.

 

Thank you.

:)

 

 

I mistakenly wrote my previous message as the tutorial clearly explained what I had wanted to know but hurriedly overlooked the point.

 

It is possible to use the preposition "from" at the end or in the beginning of the following;

 

'I had an uncle in Germany, whom I inherited a bit of money from.'

 

OR

 

'I had an uncle in Germany, from whom I inherited a bit of money.'

 

Sorry for the inconvenience.

:(

 

Submitted by myfionastyle on Fri, 06/04/2012 - 03:28

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A little confusion about THAT. Please give more clarification.

Submitted by Jay Ryan on Thu, 05/04/2012 - 15:17

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I'm looking for the grammar section that involves using comma correctly. Does anybody knows?

Submitted by Yupa JoopJoop on Mon, 02/04/2012 - 16:55

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Hello everyone I am Thai and I try to improve my English too much Who can teach me

hi Thai ,i'm nilüfer from turkey.my English is not very very good but i can almost say what ı want. ı can help you trust me of course,you want it too,

see you

write me soon :)

Submitted by mydang on Thu, 01/03/2012 - 06:04

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Hi,

apologize, but I've still got stuck with "that".

As the lesson:

But we do not use that as a subject in relative clauses.

and the question 3

She's the only person ............... really understands me.

answer: who or that,

I don't understand .I can choose that!!!!! . I expect for " who (not that)" option.

Please help me to understand more. Thanks so much.