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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

Hi teachers,

I'm a newbie here. First of all, i would like to say millions of "thank you" for the team of this page for your guidance. I do really love this website so much.

Based on my understanding, 'which' and 'that' can refer to things. And, 'that' cannot be used in non defining clause.Other than that, any difference between these two words.

For intance,'The house that Jack built.' Is it appropriate to use 'which' as well?

Another example i taken from my book. 'The dog (which/that) bit him belongs to an old man who lives in that big house. I couldn't understand 'that' can be used in this sentence.

Could you please explain these? Thanks.

Hi patrick,

Thanks for your kind feedback - it's always great to hear that people appreciate our work!

There is more information on our relative clauses page that you might find useful, but to answer your questions, there is no difference in meaning between the relative pronouns which and that. But as you observe, they are not completely interchangeable since there are different kinds of relative clauses. Yes, you can say 'The house which Jack built' and for the sentence from your book, both 'that' and 'which' are correct because both can be the antecedent of the defining clause 'which/that bit him'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Teachers!

I get confused when i read or use participles.My question is that the below given sentence is correct or not?

There are some serious issues related to business that need to be talked about.

In the above sentence that is used for issues or business?
Thanks

Hello neha_sri,

The sentence is correct. I'm not sure what you mean by 'participle' here - do you mean 'relative pronouns', like 'that', 'which', 'who' etc?

In this sentence the relative pronoun 'that' refers to the whole phrase 'some serious issues related to business'.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
Can you please help me on this:
This is George whose his car killed two people.
is that a correct sentence..?

Hi magettarashid,

No, that is not correct, though removing just one word, it can be correct: 'This is George, whose car killed two people.' The relative pronoun 'whose' is possessive, and so the possessive adjective 'his' should not be used; it's already clear whose car it is with the word 'whose'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi
aboute question number 4, why we cant use " that"?
tnx

Hi Sekandar,

'that' is not correct in number 4 due to the rule above that states 'But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause.', which comes after the example about fish and chips.

In number 4, the relative pronoun is the subject of the verb 'upsets', and therefore can only be 'which', not 'that'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

We do not use 'that' as a subject in this kind of relative clause. It is rule :))

Hello,

I have a confusion. "Whom should I approach" or "Who should I approach"--- which one is grammatically correct?

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