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.

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,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello from Kazakhstan!

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."

Hello Jassie,
That's a perfect sentence!
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi. I'm Sophia. First, thank you for making useful website.

By the way, I have a question about exercise 6. I understand that the answer is "which", but I think "that" is possible, too. Because "the name of~" is a relative clauses, but its subject is not "the name of which / that" but "I". So I chose b.

Could you tell me why the correct answer is not a but b? :-) Thank you. :-)

Hi Sophia and Jassie,
A is indeed the correct answer and you can't use 'that' in the sentence in exercise 6.
I'm not 100% sure, but I believe the reason is that different rules apply when the relative pronoun has a possessive function. In that situation, you can use 'whose', 'of whom', 'of which' etc., depending on whether you're referring to a person or an object or concept.
So you can say 'She has a brother, the name of whom I've forgotten' or 'whose name I've forgotten'. You can't say '...the name of that I've forgotten' or 'the name of who I've forgotten'.
As I said, I need to think about this a little more to be sure I'm correct, but if I realise I made a mistake, I'll come back and correct this answer!
Best wishes,