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)

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.

Dear all
i do no know when to use who and whom??
what i had understood that they are the same but who more common nowadays.. that is right ??
thanks

Hello emanhz85,

'Whom' is the object form of 'who', so it can be used when we are talking about the person that something was done to, rather than the person doing the action.  For example:

Paul spoke to Andy.

Paul is the subject; Andy the object.

To ask about Paul [the subject], we can say: 'Who spoke to Andy?'

To ask about Andy [the object], we can say 'To whom did Andy speak?'

You are correct that nowadays people tend to use 'who' in all sentences.  Most people would say that the second sentence above (with 'whom') sounds old-fashioned and rather unnatural; they would be much more likely to say 'Who did Andy speak to?'

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Dear users of this site and Administrator of this site.there are some relative pronoun in English language likewise who whose which that etc. can we say? How we use them?

Hello sampat,

You are correct that those are examples of relative pronouns.  This page has exactly the information you are asking for!  As it says, we use relative pronouns

• after a noun, to make it clear which person or thing we are talking about

or

• to tell us more about a person or thing:

Take another look at the examples provided and I think you'll see that they answer your question very thoroughly.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

its very useful for us

well, it's awkward I think that saying "I met a man that has a sisiter who knows you" It's a long sentence !

I would like to ask whether this phrase is grammatically correct :
"I met a man who his sister knows you "

Hello engmichel,

I'm afraid that sentence is not grammatically correct. I think the sentence you have in mind is this one:

'I met a man whose sister knows you.'

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

I have a confusion about 'that'. What are the conditions in which it can not be used? Because from tutorial I am not getting a clear idea and it  seems like ' that ' can be used everywhere interchangeably.

Hello aavi,
I think the page here lists very clearly when 'that' can be used, and when it cannot be used ('But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause' - i.e. we do not use 'that' in non-defining relative clauses).
Is there any particular example you have a question about?  We will be happy to help you with any concrete issues.
Best wishes,

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team