1. The relative pronouns:

The relative pronouns are:
 

Subject  Object  Possessive
who whom, who whose
which which whose
that that  


We use who and whom for people, and which for things.
We use that for people or things.

We use relative pronouns to introduce relative clauses, which tell us more about people and things.

2. Relative clauses to postmodify a noun 

We use relative clauses to postmodify a noun - to make clear which person or thing we are talking about. In these clauses we can have the relative pronoun who, which, whose or that

  • as subject (see Clauses Sentences and Phrases)

Isn’t that the woman who lives across the road from you?
The police said the accident that happened last night was unavoidable
The newspaper reported that the tiger which killed its keeper has been put down.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

*The woman who [she] lives across the road…
*The tiger which [it] killed its keeper …

  • as object of a clause (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

Have you seen those people who we met on holiday?
You shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the newspaper.
The house that we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing which I enjoyed most about our holiday.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who when the relative pronoun is the object:

Have you seen those people whom we met on holiday?

- When the relative pronoun is object of its clause we sometimes leave it out:

Have you seen those people we met on holiday?
You shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.
The house we rented in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed most about our holiday.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

Have you seen those people who we met [them] on holiday?
The house that we rented [it] in London was fully furnished.
The food was definitely the thing I enjoyed [it] most about our holiday.

  • as object of a preposition. When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually put the preposition after the verb.:

You were talking to a woman >>> Who was the woman who you were talking to?
My parents live in that house >>> That’s the house that my parents live in.
You were talking about a book. I haven’t read it. >>> I haven’t read the book which you were talking about.

- When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition we usually leave it out:

Who was the woman you were talking to?
That’s the house my parents live in.

- Sometimes we use whom instead of who:

Who was that woman whom you were talking about.

- When we use whom, which or whose the preposition sometimes comes at the beginning of the clause:

I haven’t read the book about which you were talking.

- We can use the possessive form, whose, in a relative clause:

I always forget that woman’s name >>> That’s the woman whose name I always forget.
I met a man whose brother works in Moscow.

3. Times and places

We also 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 1996. 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.

... but we can leave out the word when:

England won the world cup in 1996. It was the year we got married.
I remember my twentieth birthday. It was the day the tsunami happened.

4. Giving additional information

 We use who, whom, whose, and which (but not that) in relative clauses to tell us more about a person or thing.

  • as subject (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

My uncle, who was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell’s 1984, which is one of the most frightening books ever written.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the subject of the clause.
We do not repeat the subject:

My uncle, who [he] was born in Hong Kong, lived most of his life overseas.
I have just read Orwell’s 1984, which [it] is one of the most frightening books ever written.

  • as object (see Clauses, Sentences and Phrases)

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed.
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw in “On the Waterfront”.

- we can use whom instead of who as object:

My favourite actor was Marlon Brando, whom I saw in “On the Waterfront”.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

We saw the latest Harry Potter film, which we really enjoyed [it].
My favourite actor is Marlon Brando, who I saw [him] in “On the Waterfront”.

  • as object of a clause :

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired.
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited thirty years ago.

We can also use who as the object.

He finally met Paul McCartney, who he had always admired.

WARNING:
The relative pronoun is the object of the clause.
We do not repeat the object:

He finally met Paul McCartney, whom he had always admired [him].
We are going back to Venice, which we first visited [it] thirty years ago.

  • as object of a preposition:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, who he had read about in the newspaper.
That’s the programme which we listened to last night.

- We sometimes use whom instead of who:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, whom he had read about in the newspaper.

- The preposition sometimes comes in front of the relative pronoun whom or which:

He decided to telephone Mrs. Jackson, about whom he had read in the newspaper.
That’s the programme to which we listened last night.

5.  Quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns

 We often use quantifiers and numbers with relative pronouns:

many of whom - most of whom - one of which - none of whom
some of which - lots of whom - two of which - etc.

We can use them as subject, object or object of a preposition.

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.

6. Using  "which" to give more information

We often use the relative pronoun which to say something about a clause:

He was usually late, which always annoyed his father.
We’ve missed our train, which means we may be late.

 

Rearrange the parts to make sentences.

Match the sentence halves.

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Comments

Hello team,

I poste a question about four days ago but haven't received a reply. Kindly update me on this. Thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

Somehow we had missed your question. Sorry about that! I've replied now.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team,

I'm not sure if "he" or"him" should be used in this sentence. " It was him that took my car" or " It was he that took my car" . Could you please explain the difference? Thank you.

Hello Widescreen,

Both forms are used, though usually in different contexts. 'he' is probably more likely in formal contexts and many would argue that it is more grammatically correct, but 'him' is more common in informal contexts and so others argue that the forms that people actually use should also be considered correct.

I hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

This question about “It was him that took my car" vs " It was he that took my car" gives me an approach to my question, problem rather. It is not a question, as I already know the correct usage. But I have had difficulties in convincing; a) a native English speaker without academic credentials in English grammar, but who had the power to decide on the look and feel of the language in advertising; b) a university academic who is currently doing post graduate studies into the semantics of English grammar, for whom English is only the second language and who seems to have learnt English solely in classrooms and from grammar books.

The contested usage (contested by those two) is attested in Jane Eyre, chapter 37; “Choose then, sir—her who loves you best.”

The native English speaker, who was a power in advertising felt that this usage was wrong, that you can’t say “Choose her who loves you best”, that it should be “Choose she who loves you best”. Consequently, he put in a Mother’s Day ad with the headline- ‘Treats for she who loved you first’

The English grammarian when asked by me to articulate the scientific basis for the rightness of “Choose her who loves you best” or “Treats for her who loved you first”, also flunked it, saying, ‘her’ was both the object of the main clause and the subject of the relative clause, thus creating tension and controversy whether it should be ‘her’ in the object case (to suit the main clause) or she in the subject case (to suit the relative clause).

Then he (I strongly suspect, directed by the answer you gave to the above “It was him that took my car" vs "It was he that took my car" dispute), told me that both were correct, but it was a matter of register, and “Choose she who loves you best” was more formal while “Choose her who loves you best” was informal. I pointed out that “Choose she who loves you best” was just plain wrong because “Choose she” was wrong. But then, he came back with; “Her who loves you” was also wrong and hence the tension. Then I told him, it’s a matter of which is the dominant clause. But I failed to convince. Now looking at your lesson above, I see that the subject of the relative clause in “Choose her who loves you best” is “who” not “her”. Could this be the pathway to formulating a good rationale for convincing the grammarian? Please advise.

Hello Darshanie Ratnawalli,

The first thing to recognise is that grammar is descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, what is right, grammatically speaking, is determined by how the language is actually used. In this case, as Kirk said earlier, both forms are used quite widely and are, therefore, correct.

Relative clauses are a kind of subordinate clause, so there is no question which clause is dominant in terms of the grammar of the sentence. However, it is not the pronoun [she/her] which is the object of the verb, but rather the whole noun phrase including the defining relative clause [she/her who loves you best]. This is the source of the ambiguity in my view rather than any question of which clause is dominant.

In my view, the subject pronoun is more logical for the reason given above (the whole noun phrase is the object, and we construct the noun phrase as a whole before it assumes a role in the sentence). However, as you have shown, both forms are used widely and, therefore, both forms are correct. That is the nature of language - its rules are determined by its users and anyone trying to ignore this fact rapidly comes to resemble Cnut trying to order back the tide.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I see. The trick is to see a noun phrase as a single unit. 'Ode to He Who Must Not Be Named' rather than 'Ode to Him Who Must Not Be Named' Or is it? I can see why both usages may seem right. It's going through that stage in the evolution of the language when people are ambiguous and think both uses are correct. But eventually more people may come to believe that 'Ode to He Who Must Not Be Named' is contemporary and right, while 'Ode to Him Who Must Not Be Named' is arcane.

Hello Gentlemen,

I have listed some possibilities for relative clause(when, where,why), would you please to confirm correct or incorrect?

1. Where
a. I recently went back to the town where I was born.
b. I recently went back to the town that I was born in.
c. I recently went back to the town which I was born in.
d. I recently went back to the town (omitted that/which) I was born in.

2. When
a. do you still remember the day when we first met?
b. do you still remember the day that we first met? (that = when)
c. do you still remember the day (omitted when/that) we first met?
d. do you still remember the day on which we first met? (preposition+which/that)
e. do you still remember the day on that we first met? (preposition+which/that)

3. Why
a. The reason why I am phoing you is to invite you to a party.
b. The reason that I am phoing you is to invite you to a party.
c. The reason (omitted) I am phoing you is to invite you to a party.
d. The reason for which I am phoing you is to invite you to a party.
e. The reason for that I am phoing you is to invite you to a party.

Hello sword_yao,

We're happy to help you, but could you please tell us which sentences you think are correct or incorrect and why? That way we can help you better.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

They were talking about an accident happened on Vercailles Street when I arrived here.
They were talking about an accident happening on Vercailles Street when I arrived here.

Which one is grammatically correct?

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