Relative pronouns and relative clauses

Learn about relative pronouns and relative clauses and do the exercises to practise using them.

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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Hello Hayatullah,

In most grammatical descriptions of English relative clause and adjectival clause are alternative names for the same thing: a dependent clause which describes a noun or noun phrase.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par giangphan le sam 17/08/2019 - 05:38

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1. There are several different credit types you may have on your account depending on certain actions you perform on the website. 2. Pay in many while-collar job has been stagnating relative to inflation. Why we use "depending" and "relative" in these sentences? are they reduced relative clauses? Thank you in advanced.

Soumis par Risa warysha le jeu 01/08/2019 - 03:46

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Hi Sir, Is my sentence correct? The era in which people spend most of their time playing gadget is the dangerous era for our children. Can I use 'when' instead of 'in which'? Are my words appropriate in the case? Thank you,sir
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Soumis par Kirk le jeu 01/08/2019 - 08:04

En réponse à par Risa warysha

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Hello Risa warysha

Yes, it's correct to use 'when' instead of 'in which' here, though personally I would use 'in which' -- it just sounds better to me. But 'when' is fine.

'playing gadget' should be 'playing with gadgets'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par redream le jeu 25/07/2019 - 11:27

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Hello. "the place which you can't go is not yours" "the place which you can't go doesn't belong you" "the place what you can't go is not yours" Are there some problems with these sentences? Could you comment their meanings and as grammars, please? Or May you offer some different sentences near their meanings? Thank you very much. Kind Regards..
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Soumis par Kirk le ven 26/07/2019 - 00:23

En réponse à par redream

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Hello redream

I wouldn't use the word 'which' in either of the first two sentences and in the second one the word 'to' needs to be used before 'you'. 'what' is not correct in the third sentence.

I'm afraid we don't normally provide detailed explanations of texts that don't come from our site, as it takes quite a lot of time to do it well. If you have a more specific question, please free to ask us, however.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Kieu123 le sam 22/06/2019 - 15:49

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She had two sons, both of ___ killed in the war. A. whom B. them C. which D. whose Which of these are correct, and why?

Hello Kieu123

B and C could work here, though there is a difference in meaning. B (which is short for 'both of whom were killed in the war') means the two sons were killed in war and C means the two boys killed other people in the war.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Soumis par jafari2002 le mar 11/06/2019 - 09:12

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The class which I joined was very interesting. The class where I joined was very interesting. The class that I joined was very interesting. Which sentence is grammatically wrong? Thanks

Hello jafari2002

The second sentence is not correct. A class is not a place and so the relative pronoun 'where' is not appropriate there.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Fareyal le ven 31/05/2019 - 10:33

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Hello, When we write "we live in an era when/where every actions and conversations are monitored through CCTV cameras and smartphones" Which relative pronoun is correct between when and where? "When" sounds unatural to me but I can't explain why for this particular word...
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Soumis par Kirk le ven 31/05/2019 - 11:04

En réponse à par Fareyal

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Hello Fareyal 'when' is better than 'where' here, since an era is a period of time and not a place. 'in which' is also a good option here, though it's a little more formal than 'when' -- depending on the situation, this might be more or less appropriate. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par sam61 le mar 19/03/2019 - 08:48

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Hi, In the following sentences, is the use of the demonstrative pronoun "this" grammatically correct and/or acceptable in exams such as IELTS? I hold a bachelor's degree. That is the reason why I was eligible to apply for the job. I ask this question as I read in some of the websites related to grammar that the pronouns "which", "that", "this" cannot refer to a group of words, such as a sentence.
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Soumis par Kirk le mar 19/03/2019 - 17:32

En réponse à par sam61

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Hello sam61 Yes, you have used 'that' correctly in this series of sentences. It is also possible to say 'this' in this case. The three pronouns you mention are quite versatile and can be used to refer to the ideas expressed in phrases, sentences or even multiple related sentences. All the best Kirk The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par mik0303 le lun 04/03/2019 - 16:47

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Hi Peter, Good day! I am just newly registered on this page. I have come across this website while trying to look for an answer to the grammatical structure of relative/ adjective clauses that has put me in a state of quandary. My question is, "is the tense in a relative/adjective clause independent of the tense in the main clause all the time?" If not, could you please provide me example of a relative clause that depends it tense on the tense of the main clause. Example: The woman (whom) you met a week ago is my cousin. The woman who will call you tomorrow is my secretary. This is the house where the woman was murdered. The boy who was bullying our kid when he was in elementary is the president's son. Thank you!
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Soumis par Kirk le lun 04/03/2019 - 17:10

En réponse à par mik0303

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Hello mik0303

As far as I can think, the times of the two clauses are independent. Perhaps there could be particular situation in which they have to be the same, but if such an example exists, it would generally be clear from the context. 

Does that make sense? If you find a counterexample of this, please do share it -- this kind of question is very difficult to answer, because there are so many possibilities!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par marta71 le mar 23/07/2019 - 09:12

En réponse à par mik0303

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Hi,I think that in this sentence: This is the house where I live, the second tense depends on the first one.

Hi Eugene Yezhov

Yes, that can be correct, depending on the context and what you mean.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par libero le jeu 17/01/2019 - 17:22

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It includes various workshops and games, which students can learn and stimulate their mind. Or which help students learn and stimulate their mind? Or can I say with which / in which instead?

Soumis par Momocompanyman le dim 30/12/2018 - 08:17

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Hello Sir, I don't understand why you put : who or that in the sentence below : She's the only person ............... really understands me. I can't see the preposition, in which the rules of grammar above can find it.
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Soumis par Kirk le dim 30/12/2018 - 16:24

En réponse à par Momocompanyman

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Hi Momocompanyman,

There is no preposition in this sentence. In fact, if there was a preposition in the sentence, the relative pronoun would have to be 'which' instead of 'who' or 'that'. This sentence is a combination of:

  1. She is the only person.
  2. She understands me.

Since the antecedent of the pronoun is a person that is the subject of the verb 'understands', we can use 'who' or 'that'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Goktug123 le mar 13/11/2018 - 13:44

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Hello, The sentence below gets me confused. "Fewer than one in 100,000 people have died in combat per year since 2000—one-sixth the rate between 1950 and 2000, and one-fiftieth of that between 1900 and 1950." I understand those rates in the sentence (one in each 100.000 people since 2000,one in each 6 people between 1950 and 2000,one in each 15 people between 1900-1950) respectively. Is this true? Can we say "one-sixth the rate(which is) between 1950 and 2000" and "one-fiftieth of that(which is) between 1900 and 1950."? Thank you for your help.
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Soumis par Peter M. le mer 14/11/2018 - 07:19

En réponse à par Goktug123

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Hello Goktug123,

There are three rates in this sentence.

(1) fewer than 1 in 100,000

(2) the rate between 1950 and 2000, which was six times higher than the rate in (1)

(3) the rate between 1900 and 1950, which was fifty times higher than the rate in (1)

 

In other words, 'one-sixth' does not mean 'one in six', but rather tells us that the rate was 6 in 100,000 between 1950 and 2000.

'One fiftieth' does not mean 'one in fifty', but rather tells us that the rate was 50 in 100,000 between 1900 and 1950.

We would not use 'which' here. You can say 'the rate between 1950 and 2000', 'the rate of (the period) 1950-2000' or 'the 1950-2000 rate'.

 

Please note that we generally do not answer questions about sentences from elsewhere. We're happy to explain examples from our own pages or try to answer more general questions about the language, but answering questions from other sources is something we rarely do as, first, we have limited time and, second, we do not know the source and the author's intention, making interpretation difficult.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par rajusikar le mar 23/10/2018 - 15:18

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Is what a relative pronoun? How many relative adverbs are there in English? Plz tell me sir.

Hello rajusikar,

'What' is not a relative pronoun.

 

You can read a good summary of English relative pronouns and their use on this page:

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/pronouns/relative-pronouns

 

It is possible for adverbial clauses to function as relative clauses. These can be introduced with various adverbs, the most common of which are 'where', 'when', why', 'whenever' and 'wherever'. You can see some examples at the bottom of this page:

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

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Saffron le sam 20/10/2018 - 06:15

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Hi Mr Peter M, thanks for your response. Maybe I wasn't too clear in my question. In the sentence below, will it be grammatically correct to use "was"? - One of the boys who was/were having tea in the cafe witnessed the incident. "One of the boys" refers to one of many boys, so we would usually say that "One of the boys was.....". However, when a pronoun "who" is inserted into the sentence, is it true that the tense has to agree with the antecedent before the pronoun (in this case, the antecedent is "boys")? If so, it is therefore grammatically correct that only "were" has to be used? Thanks for your patience.

Hi Saffron,

I think the plural verb is the correct option here, assuming that there are many boys having tea and we are talking about one of them.

 

If only one boy is having tea then we have two choices. We could use a defining relative clause and not the phrase 'one of':

The boy who was having tea...

 

 

Alternatively, we could use a non-defining relative clause:

One of the boys, who was having tea, witnessed...

This would require commas around the clause, as above.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Saffron le mer 17/10/2018 - 15:43

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Hi, are the following correct? 1) One of the boys has a pet dog. 2) One of the boys who were having tea in the cafe witnessed the incident.
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Soumis par Peter M. le jeu 18/10/2018 - 05:43

En réponse à par Saffron

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Hi Saffron,

Yes, those sentences look perfectly fine to me.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you, Mr Peter M. So pronouns like 'who', 'that' and 'which' become singular or plural according to the noun directly in front of them?

Hello Saffron,

Those pronouns can all refer to singular or plural nouns.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Abdel El le mar 11/09/2018 - 18:10

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hi it is correct to say: this is the man whose phone was lost! or this is the man who lost his phone!
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Soumis par Peter M. le mer 12/09/2018 - 06:36

En réponse à par Abdel El

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Hi Abdel El,

Both of those sentences are correct. In the second sentence (who lost) we know that the man lost his own phone. In the first sentence it is not clear if the man lost his own phone or if someone else lost it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ken le mar 21/08/2018 - 02:00

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Hi! I has been reading a lot of references and a grammar book. And I still don't know what's the POSSIBLE role of relative prouns. And, can a relative pronoun be subject complement of relative clause? Please tell me. These are references from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_relative_clauses https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_pronoun#Role_of_relative_pronoun
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Soumis par Peter M. le mar 21/08/2018 - 06:34

En réponse à par Ken

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Hi Ken,

The list of roles in your second link is fine. Sometimes an adverbial function is attributed, but the item is then a relative adverb rather than a relative pronoun.

Relative pronouns can act as the subject (not subject complement) of the relative clause.

If you have a particular example in mind we'll be happy to comment on it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ken le mar 21/08/2018 - 10:04

En réponse à par Peter M.

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Hi! Is this sentece, '' He is not the man that he once was. '', grammatical?I saw this sentence on my grammar book. If it is grammatical , what's the role of '' that ''? Thank you.
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Soumis par Peter M. le mer 22/08/2018 - 08:27

En réponse à par Ken

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Hi Ken,

The sentence is correct. 'That' is a relative pronoun introducing a defining relative clause. You could replace 'that' with 'who'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par kakakevin le lun 13/08/2018 - 08:59

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Hello, I read that "that" is used for defining clauses, whereas "which" is used for non-defining clauses. In this sentence, should I use "that" instead of "which”? "The carpets which you bought are gone.” Thank you very much
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Soumis par Peter M. le mar 14/08/2018 - 06:13

En réponse à par kakakevin

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Hello kakakevin,

We can use both 'that' and 'which' in defining relative clauses, but we cannot use 'that' in non-defining relative clauses.

Your example sentence contains a defining relative clause and so both 'that' and 'which' are possible; neither is incorrect.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par amirfd le ven 13/07/2018 - 20:02

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Hello Peter. I was woken up by some strange noise ......... the apartment above mine. 1. which was coming from 2. which came from

Hello amirfd,

Both are possible here. Which you choose is a question of preference and context.

Generally, we don't provide answers to questions from elsewhere like this one. If we did, then we would end up doing people's homework and tests for them!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par omarmohamed99 le mar 05/06/2018 - 15:34

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in the fourth question i can't understand why the answer in "which but not that " could you explain this for me please ?

Hi omarmohamed99,

'which' is correct because it refers to the entire phrase before the comma. 'that' isn't used to refer to a situation or action in this way.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Lady Olenna le dim 20/05/2018 - 00:33

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Dear teachers, I have a question for you. I wrote this sentence in an essay: Tyrion Lannister is one of the characters of a Song of Ice and Fire who belong to the category of "cripples and bastards and broken things". I was corrected by someone who speaks a better English than me, but now I'm confused. She said that I should have written "belongs" instead of "belong", and that "who" is always used with the third person. I had used a plural word because the verb refers to a group of people. Could you help me to better understand? Thanks in advance!

Hello Lady Olenna,

Both forms are possible, with a small shift in meaning.

 

Tyrion Lannister is one of the characters of a Song of Ice and Fire who belongs to the category of "cripples and bastards and broken things".

 

 

The singular verb here tells us that it is Tyrion who belongs to this group: he is one of the characters of the book and he belongs to this category.

 

Tyrion Lannister is one of the characters of a Song of Ice and Fire who belong to the category of "cripples and bastards and broken things".

 

The plural verb here tells us that there are many characters who are in this category and Tyrion is one of them: there are a number of characters who belong to this category and Tyrion is one of them.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Andrew international le ven 06/04/2018 - 09:17

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Dear Sir Please help me to clarify this. When using relative pronouns for animals which is the correct? For e.g.The puppy which I bought is very cute. or The puppy that I bought is very cute. or The puppy who/whom I bought is very cute. Are all these correct or only the first and the second? Please let me know. Regards
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Soumis par Peter M. le sam 07/04/2018 - 06:36

En réponse à par Andrew international

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Hello Andrew international,

For animals we use which or that, not who.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Soumis par mitykg le lun 26/03/2018 - 15:09

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He tore up the photograph, ............... upset me......( I do not understand why my answer with 'which or that' is wrong ?) 'which' (but not 'that') 'which' or 'that' ---------------------------- They had four children, all of ............... went to university. ( my answer is ' who or that', what is wrong at my answer) 'who' or 'that' 'whom' ----------------------------- She wrote a best-selling book, the name of ............... I've completely forgotten.....(what's wrong with my answer for 'which or that' 'which' (but not 'that') 'which' or 'that'