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.

 

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Soumis par Yigitcan le sam 28/11/2020 - 18:20

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Hello team, I want to ask two questions 1-'' A tablet is a gadget which/that/who is used by many people. '' Why '' who''is in the possible answers?' 'Who'for people. 2-' 'The west of London is where theatre actors dream of performing.' 'Is this sentence true? because ''where''must after the noun. Also Thank you, site is very useful. I have been improving my English.

Hello Yigitcan,

'Who' is not correct in your first example. I'm not sure where the question is from, but the person who wrote the key clearly made a mistake. If the question is from our site then please let us know where it is so that we can correct the error.

'Where' is correct in your second example. The meaning is similar to 'the place in which'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par camillemw le mer 21/10/2020 - 08:29

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hello ! Is the following sentence correct ? The people whom he remembers wore brightly coloured clothes. thank you !

Soumis par Kirk le mer 21/10/2020 - 10:07

En réponse à par camillemw

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Hello camillemw,

Yes, it is correct, though most people just say 'The people he remembers' or 'The people who he remembers'. The relative pronoun is often omitted when it's the object of a verb in the relative clause.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmeds230 le mar 20/10/2020 - 18:50

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Hello! -We didn't know to "where" or "which" she went after she left. >Which is correct to choose? "Where" or "which"?

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 21/10/2020 - 08:49

En réponse à par Ahmeds230

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Hello Ahmeds230,

You can use 'where' provided you don't use 'to':

We didn't know where she went.

When you use 'to', you need to use a pronoun such as 'which', but you need to add more information:

We didn't know which place she went to. [more common]

We didn't know to which place she went. [less common]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your answer! Just to clarify my question, here's the full sentence: -We didn't know to ... she went after she left home. > I realize we can't use "where" here because there is "to" but it also doesn't make sense to me using "where" without a place being mentioned so...is the question wrong, or is it "which" the right choice here?

Hello Ahmeds230,

As I said, after the preposition 'to' you need a pronoun rather than the adverb 'where', so that option is not possible.

'Which' can follow a preposition, but it is a pronoun which needs a referent. In other words, there must be a context which identifies the places referred to by 'which'. For example:

There were two options: the warehouse or the office, but we didn't know to which she went after she left home.

Without a context like this, I would say that 'which' does not make sense.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thank you for clarifying this to me, but as a last effort to make sense of this sentence: -Would "whom" work in that sentence instead? >We didn't know to "whom" she went after she left home. Is that sentence correct, or still wouldn't make sense with "whom"?

Hello again Ahmeds230,

I'm afriad I don't know which example you are referring to now as there have been several different versions of the sentence.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sorry for the confusion, I meant the first sentence: >We didn't know to "whose" she went after she left home. Does "whose" work fine in that sentence or is it only okay with "whom"?

Hello again Ahmeds230,

After a preposition ('to') you need to use an object. In this case, that means either a pronoun ('whom') or a noun. You could say 'whose house', for example, but not 'whose' on its own.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hello Ahmeds230,

Yes, that sentence is fine. Now you are talking about a person and using a relative pronoun, rather than a relative adverb like where. As the pronoun is the object of a preposition (to), whom is correct.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Shortie Dork le mar 20/10/2020 - 13:52

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Hello ... I am sure that we use "whose" in the following sentence : The man whose car was stolen was very upset . But for some reason my nephew's english teacher says that "whom" is the correct answer . Can you please help? Do we use "whose" or "whom" ???

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 21/10/2020 - 08:16

En réponse à par Shortie Dork

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Hello Shortie Dork,

The correct form here is 'whose'.

It is possible to use 'whom' in a relative clause when the pronoun is the object. However, in this example 'whose' is not a pronoun but an adjective modifying the noun 'car'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le lun 12/10/2020 - 10:29

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Hello. Is the following sentence correct using "whom"? - It's hard to make a prediction about whom will win the match. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

We would use 'who' in this case, not whom.

Prepositions are followed by objects, which would suggest that the object pronoun is possible here. However, in this sentence the entire clause ['who will win the match'] is the object rather than the pronoun. Within the clause, the pronoun is the subject of the verb, so 'who' is used.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 08/10/2020 - 10:29

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Hello. Could you please tell me the difference between the following sentences? 1- I don't know the person who is at the door. 2- I don't know who the person is at the door. 3- I don't know who is the person at the door. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

They all mean the same thing. The word order in 3 is not correct in standard British English, but anyone would understand it and I expect you would hear many non-native speakers use this form.

If I were saying this, I'd probably say 'I don't know who the person at the door is' or 'I don't know who's at the door'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par quickspot le mer 07/10/2020 - 07:43

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Hello, Can the pronoun which be used for people ? As in this statement. I do not remember which one I met first. Thanks

Hello quickspot,

That sentence is fine.

Generally, we use who when we are talking about people and which when we are talking about things. However, when we use 'one' we do not use who:

I do not remember who I met first.

I do not remember which one I met first.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par quickspot le mar 06/10/2020 - 16:47

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Hello. I have read these 2 sentences in a grammar book. The first one to me is NOT complete. What do you call these types of sentences? 1.. The car which was parked downhill. The second sentence is here, 2. There are so many people WHICH we already know, In the 2 sentence we should have who instead of WHICH. What is correct ? Thanks

Hello quickspot,

You are right on both points. 1 is not a complete sentence and in 2, 'which' should not be used.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le lun 28/09/2020 - 13:30

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Hello. are the following sentences correctly written with commas? 1- The man, whom I borrowed some money from, was helpful. 2- The man, who I borrowed some money from, was helpful. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

These sentences could be correct, but in most cases the sentence would probably be without commas: 'The man who I borrowed money from was helpful'. It depends on whether you're using the phrase 'who I borrowed money from' to specify which man you're talking about.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Arjun Yadav le sam 26/09/2020 - 09:01

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Is "most of which/whom" and "many of which/whom" are same. Please explain to me.

Hello Arjun Yadav,

There is a slight difference in meaning and form, though in many contexts you could use either.

 

In terms of form, most of can be used with countable or uncountable nouns; many of can only be used with countable nouns; for uncountable nouns we would use much of.

 

In terms of meaning, most of means the majority of. In other words, most of means clearly more than half.

Many of is a little less specific. It simply means that the speaker sees the number as large. It does not necessarily mean that it is more than 50%, though it most often will be.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Risa warysha le ven 18/09/2020 - 10:08

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Hi sir, I read news yesterday. One of the sentences said "Disposable masks contain plastics which pollute water and can harm wildlife who eat them or become tangled in them" Could you please tell me why it used "who eat them ..." since I checked dictionary and found 'wildlife' is animals? Why didnt it use 'which' instead? Thank you,sir

Soumis par Kirk le ven 18/09/2020 - 13:51

En réponse à par Risa warysha

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Hello Risa warysha,

Like you, I would use a different pronoun here, like 'that' but not 'who'. Strictly speaking, it's not correct to use 'who' here. I'm afraid I don't know why the writer used it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par willleong le mar 15/09/2020 - 04:53

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I have doubts with the following two sentences, which one is correct? Or both? Mr. Chan is the chef who is preparing a banquet for us. Mr. Chan who is preparing a banquet for us is the chef. Thanks

Hello willleong,

The first is correct.

With a couple of commas around the non-defining relative clause ('Mr. Chan, who is preparing a banquet for us, is the chef.'), the second one is also correct. But it's not correct without the commas.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nimispencer le ven 04/09/2020 - 10:57

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Hi, I've got a question. Is the sentence below correct ? "The school where all the local children attended shut down because its water supply contained toxic chemicals." The use of (where) as a relative clause is correct ?? Thanks

Hello Nimispencer,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct. The relative pronoun 'where' replaces a preposition + 'which'. In this case, you have the verb 'attend', which is not followed by a preposition, and so it's not correct to use 'where'. What I'd recommend here is 'The school the local children attended was shut down ...'

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par nbu2316 le lun 31/08/2020 - 21:37

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Hello Mr. R, I would like to ask you what kind of relative clause is to be found in the following sentences: 1. "There are a few stages which are common to both and seem obligatory for the category of letter and some for the genre of Complaint letter irrespective of register." In this case, I would say that "which are common to both and seem obligatory for the category of letter and some for the genre of Complaint letter irrespective of register" is the RC defining stages -> therefore, it is an Object RC. 2. "There are several different methods of instruction, all of which focus on a particular area of language learning theory and suggest particular methods of teaching , some more controversial than others." The RC "of which focus on a particular area of language learning theory and suggest particular methods of teaching, some more controversial than others" defines the word 'all' what in turn refers to "several different methods of instruction". But is it then again an Object RC or a Subject RC (so that 'all' is the subject of the sentence)? 3. "She has been a very willing and communicative case study, who in spite of a certain initial shyness has been extremely forthcoming about her experiences to date." The RC "who in spite of a certain initial shyness has been extremely forthcoming about her experiences to date" defines 'case study'. As "a very willing and communicative case study" is a subject preticate and not an object, what kind of RC is this then? Is it a subject or object RC? Thank you very much in advance! All the best, Nehir.

Hello nbu2316,

In your first example the relative clause is a defining relative clause and refers back to 'stages', as you say. The sentence is rather awkward, however, and does not appear to be particularly well written in my view.

 

In your second example the relative clause is non-defining and refers back to 'several different methods of instruction'. The relative pronoun is the object of the preposition 'of' within the clause, but the phrase 'all of which' is the subject in the relative clause. 

You can read a liitle about phrases such as 'all of which' in the second point under Overview on the relevant wikipedia page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_relative_clauses

 

Your third example contains a non-defining relative clause which refers back to 'case study', as you say. The relative pronoun 'who' is the subject within the relative clause.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you very much for your explanation. All of the examples are taken from a corpus so that they sometimes really are rather awkward, but, however, I can't change them. While working, I came across with other examples that confused me. Therefore, I again would like to ask you for help. One example is in case of the following sentence: "Further, as speakers use unusual words in a pattern because they resemble other words used in that pattern, that is, by analogy with a more typical word, any pattern is subject to variation so that while it may be said that a certain group of words occur in a certain pattern it can not be said that they are the only ones to occur in that pattern." Here, I would like to ask, whether the clause introduced by 'that is [...]' is a relative clause or not and if so, that does it refers to? I have many clauses of this type in my corpus and I don't know whether I have to mark them as relative clauses or not. Thank you very much in advance! Kind regards, Nehir.

Hello again nbu2316,

The phrase 'that is' here does not introduce a relative clause. It's a variant on the phrase 'that is to say', which means something like 'in other words'. It's a lexical device used to introduce a paraphrase or a clarification.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par phong le sam 29/08/2020 - 22:11

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Hi Team, Please let me have some questions: 1. I had an uncle in Germany, from who(m) I inherited a bit of money. In sentence 1, why are we using comma (,) in this sentence? Is it correct if we replace "a" by "the" in this sentence so we will have "I had the uncle in Germany, from who(m) I inherited a bit of money." 2. I didn't know the uncle that I inherited the money from. In sentence 2, why are we using "the" instead of "a" in this sentence? In these cases, I am getting confused when to use "a" or "the" and when to put comma. Please help me understand. Thank you! Regards, Phong

Soumis par Peter M. le dim 30/08/2020 - 08:59

En réponse à par phong

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Hello phong,

The reason a comma is used in your first example is that the construction beginning 'from whom' is a non-defining relative clause. In other words, it adds extra information but does not identify the subject (uncle).

If the sentence did not have a comma it would suggest that you have several uncles in Germany and are identifying which uncle you are talking about.

We would not use the here as the speaker is clearly introducing their uncle for the first time.

 

In your second example, the is used because the speaker has clearly spoken about the uncle before. Your first mention would be to let the listener know you have an uncle in Germany; after than you might tell them that you didn't know that uncle.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par SonuKumar le mar 25/08/2020 - 10:36

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Sir, I have helped her, which is a good thing. Is the second sentence a relative clause or not ? If yes then can I use 'that instead of which' in the second sentence ? I think If I write the same sentence with 'that', I need to write it seperately as one sentence. Like this: I have helped her. That is a good thing or I have helped her and that is a good thing. But If the second sentence is a relative clause which I'm not sure about why can't I write the two clauses as one sentence using 'that instead of which' ? Here are a few more sentence examples. She is a good girl which is way I like her. She is a good girl that is way I like her. I think I need use a comma in both sentences and the word 'and' in the second one. but why ? Four injured were rushed to hospital yesterday three of whom have died. Four injured were rushed to hospital yesterday three of them have died. Now again I think I need to use the conjuction 'and' in the second sentence or I could write it seperately as one sentence but can I not write the way I have written them above ?

Soumis par Jonathan R le mar 25/08/2020 - 14:05

En réponse à par SonuKumar

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Hi SonuKumar,

  • I have helped her, which is a good thing.

Yes, the underlined part is a relative clause. But, it's a non-defining relative clause (see point 2, above, and this page for more explanation and examples. It's different from the other type, defining relative clauses, described in point 1, above).

For this type of relative clause, that cannot be used instead of which

  • I have helped her. That is a good thing. 
  • I have helped her and that is a good thing.

Both the sentences above are correct. But in these sentences, that is a subject pronoun (not a relative pronoun like which). 

  • She is a good girl, which is why I like her.
  • She is a good girl, and that is why I like her.

Yes! The corrections you suggested are right. I've made the corrections in the sentences above. Here again, in the first sentence there is a non-defining relative clause: which is why I like her. Notice that there must be a comma before a non-defining relative clause.

  • Four injured were rushed to hospital yesterday, three of whom have died.
  • Four injured were rushed to hospital yesterday and three of them have died.

You're right that and is needed in the second sentence. In the first one, it's correct if the comma is added (to make the correct structure for the non-defining relative clause, underlined).

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Yes Sir, It does make sense and clarify the matter. Thank you very much indeed for your help!

Soumis par Anisha00329 le mer 19/08/2020 - 04:38

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one or other means one of two people or things, when it does not matter which you are referring to - Would the formal version be "it does not matter to which you are referring" She sits on a “reputation committee”, a subgroup of the company’s executive committee, which is chaired by the chief executive. - does "which" refer to "reputation committee" or the "executive committee"? The government has received more than 2,000 submissions, mostly opposing the proposal. - As I understand the use of relative clauses and participial clauses, when we are referring to the noun which is at the end of a sentence, it would be better to use relative clauses rather than participal clauses, which tend to refer to the whole of the previous sentence. Since "most opposing the proposal" refers to the submissions, would it be better to say "which mostly oppose the proposal". Thanks for your help teachers.

Hi Anisha00329,

I'll try to answer your questions in turn.

  1. Yes – that would be a very formal way to say one or other. But, note that one or other isn't marked for any particular style, so it's perfectly fine to use it in formal writing or speaking. Also, it's just a phrase (i.e. part of a sentence), while your suggestion is a full sentence.
  2. It refers to reputation committee. But, if you deleted the comma after executive committee, then it would refer to executive committee. So, the comma makes a small but important difference!
  3. Yes! It would be better to use the relative clause here, for the reason that you said.

I hope that helps!

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Natavan Gojayeva le lun 17/08/2020 - 05:47

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Hello thank for sharing this material. My question is, according to Cambridge Objective Advanced preposition cannot be used before "who" but "whom" can be used. If we want to use preposition with "who", it is supposed to be at the end of the clause. But here it says, who/whom can be used with the same way. Could you please explain that a little further? Many thanks in advance.