English Grammar: Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun is one which is used to refer to nouns mentioned previously, whether they are people, places, things, animals, or ideas.

There are only a few relative pronouns in the English language. The most common are which, that, whose, who, and whom. Relative pronouns can be used to join two sentences. 

Relative Pronouns – Video

1. Who

We use who in relative clauses to refer to people. Who can act as the subject or the subject of the relative clause.

  • Mrs Smith, who has a lot of teaching experience at junior level, will be joining the school in September. (who refers to Mrs Smith and is the object of has in the relative clause)
  • She’s going out with a bloke who’s in the army. (who refers to a bloke and is the object of is in the relative clause; bloke is an informal word for a man)

2. Whom

We use whom in formal styles or in writing to refer to people when the person is the object of the verb. It is much more common in writing than in speaking.

  • The author whom you criticized in your review has written a reply. (whom refers to the author and is the object of criticized in the relative clause)
  • She was a celebrated actress whom he had known and loved, on and off, almost since her first appearance on the stage. (whom refers to a celebrated actress and is the object of known and loved in the relative clause)

3. Whose

We usually use whose as a relative pronoun to indicate possession by people and animals. In more formal styles we can also use it for things. We use whose before nouns instead of a possessive expression (my, your, his, her, its, our, their, x’s).

  • He’s marrying a girl whose family don’t seem to like him. (The family of the girl he’s marrying don’t seem to like him.)
  • There was me and there was Kate, whose party it was, and then there were two other people. (It was Kate’s party.)

4. Which

We use which in relative clauses to refer to animals and to things. We always use which to introduce relative clauses when they refer to a whole sentence or clause.

  • His best movie, which won several awards, was about the life of Gandhi. (which refers to the his best movie and is the object of won in the relative clause)
  • She had to get up and walk all the way to the other side of the room, which isn’t easy with a bad back. (which refers to the whole sentence before it)

5. That

We use that instead of who, whom or which in relative clauses to refer to people, animals and things. That is more informal than who, whom or which. That can act as the subject or the object of the relative clause.

  • Don’t take moneythat doesn’t belong to you. (that refers to money and is the subject of belong in the relative clause)
  • It’s the same cookerthat my mother has. (that refers to the same cooker and is the object of has in the relative clause)

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