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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 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

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.
:(
 

A little confusion about THAT. Please give more clarification.

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

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 :)

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.
 
 

Hi, my name is irma from Indonesia. First, I want to thanks to british council for the website which is very usefull for us. Then I want to ask about the different using who and whom, when we could use whom better than who.
Thank you.

Hi Irma

Whom sounds a bit old-fashioned now so we don't use it very much. The only time we use it, is with prepositions. If an unknown or unnamed  person is the object of a preposition, we use the relative pronoun whom. A common example:

To whom it may concern (used at the start of an open letter).

In the past, people thought it was bad grammar to end a sentence with a preposition so the question "Who did you go with?" would have been wrong and people would have asked: "With whom did you go?" - Here, the relative pronoun is the object of the preposition so we use whom. We aren't as fussy these days about ending a sentence with a preposition so we rarely use whom.

I hope that helps. If it's not clear, let me know and I'll try to explain it better.

Thanks

Jack

The LearnEnglish Team

 

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