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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

Hello Dandi

You can find an explanation of when to use commas on this Oxford Dictionary page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi
I would like to make clear that in all sentences where I have to fill "who" or "which" I can replace by "that"
Or there are cases where I can only use "that"
Thank u

Hello Didi

I'm afraid it's not quite that simple. For one thing, 'who' is not always a relative pronoun (e.g. 'Who invented the telephone?). Also, in the first kind of relative clauses explained above -- these are sometimes called 'defining relative clauses' -- 'who' can always be replaced by 'that', though I would recommend you learn and practise both. But in the second kind of relative clauses explained above -- these are sometimes called 'non-defining relative clauses' -- only 'who' is correct when we are speaking about a person.

The case is the same for 'which': it is also used in questions (e.g. 'Which film did you see?') and 'that' cannot replace it in non-defining relative clauses, when we use 'which' to give more information -- see for example the sentence 'We had fish and chips, which I always enjoy' above.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Could you please help me? Which relative pronoun is correct or both?
1- All we want to know is the truth about whom is to blame for this fatal error.
2- All we want to know is the truth about who is to blame for this fatal error.
Some books of English say that after prepositions we must use "whom" not "who". I am really confused.
Thank you.
thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

It's true that object forms are used after prepositions, but I would suggest using 'who' here. This is because 'who/whom' is a bit of a special case -- 'whom' has mostly disappeared in most informal, and even many formal, situations nowadays.

There's also the fact that there are situations where both forms are possible. In this case, 'who' or 'whom' is not simply the object of 'about' -- instead it is the head of the phrase 'who/whom is to blame', and it is this phrase that is the object of 'about'. Whether it's correct to use 'who' or 'whom' at the head of such a phrase is a question of style as far as I know.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Greetings,

in the relative pronouns 6, example 6, shouldn't it be "after" not "from"? Doesn't it state that the poor grandma literally passed on the eyes?
Regards

Hello Klecia

Perhaps in a very specific context this would express what you mean, but in general it is not literal but rather figurative. 'after' would not be correct as a substitute for 'from', but perhaps you're thinking of the phrasal verb 'to take after', which means that a person is similar to another one, usually family, e.g. 'When people see my grandmother's green eyes, they say I take after her'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team!
I have a question.
Which one is true?
"Please clarify why it is." or "Please clarify why it is being"
Thank you for kind help!

Hello Goktung123,

 

We would not use 'being' in this sentence. The correct form of the two is the first one.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! Can you please tell me if the sentence below is correct?

"For all of you who were and who are my sunshine".

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