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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,I think that in this sentence: This is the house where I live, the second tense depends on the first one.

Hello mik0303

As far as I can think, the times of the two clauses are independent. Perhaps there could be particular situation in which they have to be the same, but if such an example exists, it would generally be clear from the context. 

Does that make sense? If you find a counterexample of this, please do share it -- this kind of question is very difficult to answer, because there are so many possibilities!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Can I say "That is"?

Hi Eugene Yezhov

Yes, that can be correct, depending on the context and what you mean.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

It includes various workshops and games, which students can learn and stimulate their mind. Or
which help students learn and stimulate their mind?
Or can I say with which / in which instead?

Hello Sir,
I don't understand why you put : who or that in the sentence below :
She's the only person ............... really understands me.
I can't see the preposition, in which the rules of grammar above can find it.

Hi Momocompanyman,

There is no preposition in this sentence. In fact, if there was a preposition in the sentence, the relative pronoun would have to be 'which' instead of 'who' or 'that'. This sentence is a combination of:

  1. She is the only person.
  2. She understands me.

Since the antecedent of the pronoun is a person that is the subject of the verb 'understands', we can use 'who' or 'that'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

The sentence below gets me confused.

"Fewer than one in 100,000 people have died in combat per year since 2000—one-sixth the rate between 1950 and 2000, and one-fiftieth of that between 1900 and 1950."

I understand those rates in the sentence (one in each 100.000 people since 2000,one in each 6 people between 1950 and 2000,one in each 15 people between 1900-1950) respectively. Is this true?

Can we say "one-sixth the rate(which is) between 1950 and 2000" and "one-fiftieth of that(which is) between 1900 and 1950."?

Thank you for your help.

Hello Goktug123,

There are three rates in this sentence.

(1) fewer than 1 in 100,000

(2) the rate between 1950 and 2000, which was six times higher than the rate in (1)

(3) the rate between 1900 and 1950, which was fifty times higher than the rate in (1)

 

In other words, 'one-sixth' does not mean 'one in six', but rather tells us that the rate was 6 in 100,000 between 1950 and 2000.

'One fiftieth' does not mean 'one in fifty', but rather tells us that the rate was 50 in 100,000 between 1900 and 1950.

We would not use 'which' here. You can say 'the rate between 1950 and 2000', 'the rate of (the period) 1950-2000' or 'the 1950-2000 rate'.

 

Please note that we generally do not answer questions about sentences from elsewhere. We're happy to explain examples from our own pages or try to answer more general questions about the language, but answering questions from other sources is something we rarely do as, first, we have limited time and, second, we do not know the source and the author's intention, making interpretation difficult.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Is what a relative pronoun? How many relative adverbs are there in English? Plz tell me sir.

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