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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 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

 

Thank you Jack, its really helpfull. I'm starting really enjoying the lesson.

Hie
I don't understand the difference between (which or that) and which

Hello,
What part of the explanation above isn't clear?
You might want to also read our page on relative clauses.
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello from Kazakhstan!

I want to ask
    when can we use which but not that??

So, I just thought of this. This is also about the Question number 6 (under relative pronouns.) Can you tell me if this sentence makes sense?
"She wrote a best-selling book, that I've completely forgotten the name of."
 

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