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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

So is “All was a triangular piece of metal” an independent clause?
and is there a limit to how many questions I can ask?
and thank you for helping me

Hello Roses,

No, you can't use 'all' in that way. It can only be part of a larger subject: all I could see was... / all we had was... / all we need is... etc.

 

We don't limit the number of questions a person asks on the site, but we try to provide answers to as many users as we can, so we usually only answer one question from any particular user on any particular day. In other words, if you ask multiple questions then you might have to wait a little longer for your answer.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Is a relative clause and subordinate clause the same thing?
Is “that was left” a subordinate clause?

Someone told me that “All that was left” was a noun phrase is that true?

Is the part “was a triangular piece of metal” a verb phrase?

Is a main verb and finite verb the same thing?

Hello Roses,

Relative clauses are one kind of subordinate clause; there are other kinds.

 

In your example 'all' is a pronoun and 'that was left' is a relative clause describing it; 'all that was left' is a noun phrase functioning as the subject of the sentence.

 

'...was a triangular piece of metal' is a verb phrase consisting of a verb with its complement.

 

The term 'finite verb' is used to describe those verb forms which has a subject and can be used to form an independent clause. In other words, finite verbs are verb forms other than the infinitive, participles and gerunds.

'Main verb' is a descriptive term used to contrast with auxiliary verbs.

 

I hope those answers clarify it for you. Please note that this is a site focused on language learning and use rather than linguistic analysis. Where analysing the language in this way helps with language learning we're happy to do it, but we try to avoid an overly technical focus on terminology and sentence analysis for the most part.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello i want to ask
Which is correct: -

I was invited by the professor who / whom i met at the conference

Hello Shortie Dork,

Both are grammatically possible.

The relative pronoun is the object of the verb 'met', so it is possible to use whom. However, use of whom is disappearing in modern English other than when it directly follows a preposition (to whom, for whom etc), so who is the more common option.

 

You can read more about this topic on this page;

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/relative-pronouns-and-relative-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi ,
According to me it should be:
I was invited by the professor whom i met at the conference.

Hi Team,

Please need your comments on following sentences.

1. The man kept a bag under the table which had four curved legs.

2. The man kept a bag under the table. This had four curved legs.

which is correct and why ?

Hello Shoaib50,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. It's a little unusual, though, to use the word 'this' (in 2). I would recommend something like 'The man kept a bag under the table with four curved legs', but 1 is also fine.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you so much .

One more please.

The man kept bag under the table.

In above example table is object of preposition. lets assume if i want to tell about bag then how can we do it.
My teacher told me if you use relative pronoun then it must close its antecedent, so how can we write ? Please also mention can we describe object of preposition with relative pronoun.

example.
My uncle lives in Germany whom i borrowed money to.

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