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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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

Goktug123 提交于 周二, 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.

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

rajusikar 提交于 周二, 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

Saffron 提交于 周六, 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

Saffron 提交于 周三, 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.

Peter M. 提交于 周四, 18/10/2018 - 05:43

Saffron 回复

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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

Abdel El 提交于 周二, 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!

Peter M. 提交于 周三, 12/09/2018 - 06:36

Abdel El 回复

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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

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

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

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.

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

kakakevin 提交于 周一, 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

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

amirfd 提交于 周五, 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

omarmohamed99 提交于 周二, 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

Lady Olenna 提交于 周日, 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

Andrew international 提交于 周五, 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

Hello Andrew international,

For animals we use which or that, not who.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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'

Hi mitykg,

It appears that part of the explanation is missing from this page, which of course makes it more difficult to do the exercise correctly. I'm sorry about that and will look into fixing it.

In the meantime, I'll explain these for you. In the first one, only 'which' is correct because 'which' is used to refer to a situation or action -- here it refers to the man's tearing up of the photograph.

In the second one, only 'whom' is correct because it refers to people and because the relative pronoun in the object of the pronoun 'of'.

The third one is similar to the second one, except that the relative pronoun refers to a thing (a book). The relative pronoun is the object of the preposition 'of' and so only 'which' is correct, because only 'which' and 'whom' are used as objects of prepositions.

I hope this clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

shivamgetz 提交于 周五, 23/02/2018 - 08:01

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Can I grammatically interchange "that" with "which" in the following sentences: This is the only pen, THAT i bought yesterday. My father has given me everything THAT I needed. This is the same man THAT deceived me. Is there any limitations of "which" with regard to numbers in the plural case.

Hello shivamgetz,

'which' can be used in both defining and non-defining relative clauses, whereas 'that' is used only in defining relative clauses. All three of the sentences you ask about have defining relative clauses, so you could indeed use 'which' instead (though note there should be no comma in the first sentence).

'which' can be used to refer to both singular and plural antecedents. I'm not sure if that's what you were asking -- if not, please give an example of what you mean.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Akash Rathore 提交于 周三, 31/01/2018 - 04:38

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Hello Peter "My father likes Elliot's essays who was a masterpiece critic and reputed grammarian of English." Is the sentence correct? Thanks

Hello Akash,

No, I'm afraid it is not. The antecedent of 'who' cannot be 'essays', which is what the grammar of the sentence indicates. You could perhaps say something like 'My father likes Elliot's essays because he was a master critic and reputed grammarian'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

HI)) Can we say "The Mona Lisa which painted by the Leonardo Da Vinci is in Louvre" ?

Hello Lutfullo,

That sentence is not quite correct. There are two ways to say this:

The Mona Lisa, which was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, is in Louvre.

The Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo Da Vinci, is in Louvre.

You need to include the commas.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Timmosky 提交于 周三, 10/01/2018 - 10:39

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Is the usage of "who" and "whom" correct in these sentences. "She's the one who played the piano at the event." And "George, who is a funny man, died yesterday." This is Clara, whom I went to school with." "They are the ones who won the championship."

Hello Timmosky,

Yes, all of them are correct, though please note that 'whom' is quite uncommon in speaking nowadays. Most of the time, most people would use 'who' in your third sentence instead of 'whom'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

JamlMakav 提交于 周三, 08/11/2017 - 21:41

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Hello, (Bob is speaking) ''... and I am completely powerless to the whims of the new building owner.'' (Bob is the building owner.) (and then is interrupted by John) ''Which is you.'' Why is there ''Which'' used it refers to things and animals, but not people? Shouldn't it be who? Thank you in advance.

Hello JamlMakav,

It's great that you noticed this. In this case, 'which' isn't so much a relative pronoun as a kind of connecting word. Both 'who' and 'which' are sometimes used in this way to connect ideas or clauses.

A test you can use to determine if this is appropriate is to see if you can replace 'which' with 'and this'. If it makes sense, as in the example you ask about ('And this is you' has the same meaning), then 'which' is being used as a connector.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. We can also use 'Where' 'When' and 'Why' right? How to use 'why'? Please help me. Huhu Lol Thank you.

libero 提交于 周四, 02/11/2017 - 13:59

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Hi, Why ‘who’ is used instead of ‘that’ in the following sentence? Can I omit the comma before their relative pronoun ‘who’? Americans eat 50% more protein and fat than Japanese, who get more of their calories from fruit and vegetables. Many thanks

Peter M. 提交于 周五, 03/11/2017 - 06:56

libero 回复

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Hello libero,

The relative clause here (starting with 'who' and continuing to the end of the sentence) is a non-defining relative clause, which means that it provides extra information but does not define the noun which it describes. We only use 'that' in defining relative clauses.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Biffo 提交于 周六, 28/10/2017 - 21:11

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Hi, I'm slightly confused by the start of the article that states "The relative pronouns are: (who, whom, whose, which & that)" I'm planning a Primary School lesson on relative pronouns and, as I understand the National Curriculum, where and when can also be RPs, as in "I turned the TV off when the programme had finished" or "I looked at the mark on the floor where my daughter had scribbled her name". Is that right? I may have got the wrong end of the stick...

Hello Biffo,

The five pronouns listed here are the ones found in most lists of relative pronouns, but you're right in thinking that 'where', 'when' and 'why' can introduce relative clauses. You might want to take a look at another grammar reference, for example the Cambridge Dictionary's, to compare how they are presented there.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

fishing2 提交于 周五, 27/10/2017 - 17:56

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Hello, I have just done an exercise putting 2 sentences together using relative pronouns, but this example has foxed me. This is my football ground. My team plays here. My answer was This is my football ground whose team plays here. But is doesn't made sense, so what relative pronoun should it be? Thanks.

Hello fishing2,

I would use the relative pronoun 'where':

This is the football ground where my team plays.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello,what the difference between who and whom

Hello kacem,

'Whom' is the object form of 'who'. It is quite unusual in modern English and can sound quite old-fashioned. Most people use 'who' for all forms except when the word follows a preposition such as to, for, with and so on. In these cases 'whom' is still quite common.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team