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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

When we speak of certain places as regards their function(what the place was meant for) we do not use the definite article "the". For example. school= a place where we go to to learn(some anyway) prison= a place where criminals are sent,hospital=a place where people who have severe illnesses go. So, we say, The man(a criminal) was sent to prison. But, we say: The son(not criminal; we hope) went to the prison to visit his dad. Or, Ann´s father( as a patient) was sent to hospital because he had to have an operation. But, Ann(as a visit) went to the hospital to visit him. There are,as usual,exceptions(this is English) For example, They went to the cinema last night.

Hello wilson2103,

I'll be happy to answer the question, but I'd like to request something first.  Your question, and the answer to it, will be useful to other users but they are unlikely to find this information on this page, which is about relative pronouns.  Could you post the question again, on a page related to articles?  That way it will be easier for others to find it and make use of it.

Best wishes and thank you in advance,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi;
Now I read the comments of Mr.Peter dated 22 Dec. 2013 on How long page I don`t now if you will consider me as  'intermediate' learner, but I know that i have to try doing the free test of IELTS but every time I said to myself I have to finish the grammars section first but really it`s hard to finish it.so what you advice me to do?
 
Best Wishes
 
Safaa

Hi Safaa,

It's not necessary to finish any section here before you move on to something else.  You should consider what you need, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what will be most helpful for you.  Use the grammar section as a buffet: if you have problems with a particular area, or would like to revise it, then go to that area and work on it, but don't feel that it's necessary to complete all grammar exercises before you try something else.  Try one of the free IELTS tests on the British Council's Take IELTS pages to see what your level is and what aspects of English you need to practise; then you can come back to the reference and practice materials here to work on those areas.

I hope that is helpful for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Mr. Peter;
Thank you very much your reply is so helpful, because it help me to make a decision to start doing the free IELTS tests and move forward.
 
Excuse me; are people in Poland and the UK suffering too much of catching a cold?, in my home we have been watching everyday a group of channels the Knowledge ,the entertainment and the Lifestyle BBC Poland and I noticed that about 60% of advertisement spaces between programs about cold medicines and joint disease medicines.
 
Really those channels are very useful and interesting.
 
Best wishes 
Safaa
 

Hi Safaa,

I don't think Polish people suffer any more from colds than anyone else!  I suppose it's the season for it at the moment so perhaps that's why there are so many advertisments.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello;
In the Article 2 page in the Quick grammar section, I read this example about singular countable nouns have an article.
That’s the woman I met last week.
So I feel that usually I am writing many unimportant words because if I want to say this sentence may I say :That`s the woman who I met her last week.What is the right way I feel a bit confusion, although I am reviewing the grammars section by time. Is there any advice to me? :( or only I have to be more patient and every thing by studying and by time will be better .
 
I read the in spite of / despite / although page, with taking in our consideration the grammatical difference in the following sentence of each of them; can I say that there is no difference between them in meaning except it`s prefer to use despite and although in the beginning of the sentence and although is stronger than despite.
 
Best Wishes
 
Safaa
 
 

Hello Safaa,

You can include or omit the relative pronoun in this sentence:

That's the woman I met last week.

or

That's the worm who I met last week.

However, the object of the verb 'met' is the relative pronoun, whether it is included or not, so we do not add 'her' to the sentence.  You can find the rules for when the relative pronoun can be omitted on this page but there are really two things to remember:

1) you can miss out the relative pronoun in defining, not non-defining relative clauses

2) you can miss out the relative pronoun when it is the object of the verb [in your sentence, the relative pronoun is the object of the verb 'met']

Can I ask you to post your second question on the despite/in spite of/although page?  It is very useful for other users to see such questions when they are reading the pages as it may be a question that they themselves have, and if the questions are on other pages then they are unlikely to be noticed.  We will answer the question for you then, of course.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello;
As you display the traditional grammar and what is used nowadays in this page and in other ones, so I understand that it`s preferred in our writing and speaking to use what is used nowadays, but in exams what should be mark or use? or which one the examiner will consider the correct one?  
Best Regards
(Excuse me, what is the difference between Regards and Wishes in ending emails or comments)

Hello Safaa,

I suppose you are referring to the use of who for whom. Whether or not this is acceptable on an exam depends on who is marking the exam. If you are wondering about official English exams such as the IELTS or some of the Cambridge exams, who is considered correct. You could also use whom (as long as you use it correctly), but it's not necessary to do so - the current use of who is correct.

Both Best wishes and Best regards are common closings for emails in a neutral register. They essentially mean the same thing.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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