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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

Hello, Sir!
Could you please tell me if the two sentences are correct:
1. I have two brothers who is a teacher and a doctor.
2. I have two brothers who are a teacher and a doctor.
Thank you so much for your time.
Best Wishes!

Hi Sokhom,

The second one is the correct one :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, team!
I was wondering if 'what I see' is a relative clause (a free relative clause) or a noun clause?
e.g. I like what I see.
e.g. Where she lives is a mystery.
(Is 'where she lives' a relative clause or noun clause?)
2. Could I write the sentence as below?
e.g. The town where I live in is quiet and peaceful.
You explanation is a big help for me.
Best Wishes!

Hi Sokhom,

1. what I see and where she lives are both free relative clauses and noun clauses. (A couple of notes: the information on this page above is all about bound relative clauses, not free ones; and different grammar traditions use different terms.)

2. No, it should be one of these options:

  • The town (that/which) I live in is quiet ...
  • The town where I live is quiet ...

As a relative pronoun, where already includes the meaning of 'in', in relation to the noun. You can think of it as substitutable with 'in which' (i.e. The town in which I live / The town which I live in).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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

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

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