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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 Tim,

Relative clauses provide information about a noun (or noun phrase) so their function in the sentence is adjectival. That is why they are sometimes called adjective clauses.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
I have a question concerning the relative pronouns "who/whom". (who) is used as a subject of a verb and (whom) as an object of a verb or preposition. When I was doing an exercise about determining whether the relative pronoun a subject pronoun or object pronoun I found these sentences:
1. Do you know the girl who I danced with?
2. This is the man who Barbara visited in Scotland.
I think they should normally be with (whom) not with (who). I know that it is used in spoken or informal language but what about formal or Academic English, is it correct to use (who) instead of (whom) when it functions as an object?
thanks in advance!

Hello Erwin Smith

That's correct -- in informal situations, and even in some formal ones, people often use 'who' instead of 'whom'. There's quite a bit of variation in formal and academic writing and speaking -- sometimes you see or hear 'whom' and sometimes 'who'. It's difficult to give advice without knowing more about your situation, but you might perhaps use 'whom' in writing but 'who' in speaking.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

thank you so much

It's really great.

I got confused whether or not there's a comma here:
I have a friend (,) who collects stamp.
I think "I have a friend." is grammatically correct and it can stand alone as a full sentence. Is the comma necessary?
Thank you.

Hello heoquay193,

Although we don't have the context, I think it is clear that this is a defining relative clause (identifying which friend you have in mind) rather than a non-defining relative clause (providing extra but unnecessary information). Defining relative clauses are not separated by a commas, so no comma should be used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I think these examples are like that:
1- A stunt person is someone who ''stands in'' for an actor during dangerous scenes. Defined
2- A computer-graphics supervisor who needs advanced technical knowledge often spends millions of dollars on computer graphics. Non-defined
3- A stagehand is the person who moves the sets of stage in a theater production. Defined
4- A movie producer who controls the budget decides how money will be spent. it is defined as well, because people do not know about this job. Am I right?

Hello Teachers
I have a question which has been puzzled me a lot.
When it it comes to the different now types, is there any difference between them? For example are common, proper, abstract collective or job titles like ''stagehand'' or ''computer-graphics supervise'' must always be defined on Non-defined? I will appreciate providing examples.

Hello Ahmed2020,

I think you're a little confused with the terminology here. Defining and non-defining in the context of this page refer to relative clauses, not to nouns. They describe particular grammatical constructions:

> defining relative clauses identify the particular item being described (more here)

> non-defining relative clauses give extra, non-essential information about the item being described (more here)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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