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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

SIR,
Could you please , clarify me what is difference in have and had words and would and could ,with some examples.

Thanks
Manmeet

Hello Manmeet singh atal,

These are words which have many uses - as full verbs (have and had), as modal verbs (would and could) and as auxiliary verbs in a whole range of different verb foms (have, had, would and could).  There are literally dozens of different uses for these words, so it's not really possible for me to list and exemplify them all, nor is it a useful way to analyse the language.  For example, it is useful to see the past perfect (formed with had + past participle) as part of a group of verb forms for talking about the past, not as part of a group of verb forms using 'had'.

Perhaps you can provide us with particular sentences you have come across which you would like to explain, and we'll go from there.  It would also be helpful if you could post your question on a related page (this page is devoted to relative pronouns, not verb forms), so other LearnEnglish users can see when they are looking for related information.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,I wrote asking about relative pronouns. I has seen a test and believed that there were errors in the test. Still do. However,I too made a mistake in my comment to you: " "At midday,(1)...........Mary eventually finished the letters,she turned to her boss...." " I said that the word for space 1 was "when". However,I said that it was an interrogative adverb,when it is,I believe, in fact(in this context) an adverb of time.Thanks. Oh, am I right?

Hello falkenberg 2666,

Yes, you are correct.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

In an English test I saw this: Complete the following text using relative pronouns(Altogether ten). I believe that in four of the ten spaces it is not possible to use a relative pronoun. Am I right? Here they are:

"At midday,(1)...........Mary eventually finished the letters,she turned to her boss."(2).......should I address it to,Mr Brown or Miss Smith?"she asked. " Don´t ask silly questions!" he growled. " Just write "To(3)..........it may concern" at the top". Mary was surprised. However,she did not ask her boss,who was doing a crossword,(4).............he wasn´t working like everyonre else."
Surely the answer to number one is "when", which here is an interrogative adverb,the answer to number 2 is "Who" ,which is an interrogative pronoun.The answer to 3 is"whom" which is a personal pronoun(dative case),and the answer to 4 is "why",which is an interrrogative adverb. Hope to hear from you. Thank you in advance.

Thank you for your prompt reply. What I am saying is that in none of the four spaces provided is it possible to use a relative pronoun. Could you just confirm that,if possible,please. Again,thanks for your reply. Cheers.

Hello falkenberg 2666,

As far as I can see, it is not.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello falkenberg 2666,

I think this is a question better addressed to your local English teacher - our role here is to help our users with the materials on this site, not materials from other lessons or other sources.  However, briefly, I would answer as follows:

1) when/as

2) who/which ['which' can be used in certain contexts to refer to people]

3) whom

4) so/because

To use 'why' in the last gap you would need to use the phrase 'which was why'.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

when do we use whom?

Hello cedriclegneks,

'Whom' is the object form of 'who' but it is relatively rarely used in modern English and can sound quite old-fashioned.  For example, we can say:

Who did you give it to?          or          To whom did you give it?

You spoke to who?          or          You spoke to whom?

I hope that answers your question.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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