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Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are similar to conjunctions in that they provide a link between a clause  or phrase to a noun or pronoun and the sentence. The difference from a conjunctions is that a relative pronoun doesn't just bring attention to the clause. The relative pronoun actually plays the role of a noun in the clause. A relative pronoun is usually seen in a sentence at the beginning of an adjective clause. An adjective clause functions as an adjective, modifying nouns and pronouns. 

We use relative pronouns:
  • after a noun, to make it clear which person or thing we are talking about:
    • the house that Adrian built
    • the woman who discovered radium
    • an seven-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop
  • to tell us more about a person or thing:
    • My mother, who was born overseas, has always been a great traveller.
    • Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
    • We had fish and chips, which is my favourite meal.

We sometimes use whom as the object of a verb or preposition:
    • This is Hillary, whom you met at our house last year.
    • This is Hillary’s brother, with whom I went to school.
But nowadays we normally use who:
    • This is Hillary, who you met at our house last year.
    • This is Hillary’s brother, who I went to school with.
When whom or which have a preposition the preposition can come at the beginning of the clause...
    • I had an uncle in Europe, from who[m] I inherited a bit of money.
    • We bought an axe, with which we cut up all the wood.
or at the end of the clause:
I had an uncle in Europe who[m] I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought an axe, which we cut all the wood up with.

We can use that at the beginning of the clause:
I had an uncle in Europe  that I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought a axe that we cut all the wood up with.

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Relative Pronouns Definition

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A relative pronoun is one which is used to refer to nouns mentioned previously, whether they are people, places, things, animals, or ideas. A relative pronoun is used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun. You see them used everyday with the most common relative pronouns being: who, whom, which, whoever, whomever, whichever, and that. Relative pronouns can be used to join two sentences.

There are only a few relative pronouns in the English language. The most common are which, that, whose, whoever, whomever, who, and whom. In some situations, the words what, when, and where can also function as relative pronouns. For the reason that there are only a few of them, there are also just a few rules for using relative pronouns. Such as:

  • Relative clauses are normally introduced by relative pronouns, and that the relative pronoun can function as a possessive pronoun, an object, or a subject.
  • When relative pronouns introduce restricting relative clauses, no comma is used to separate the restrictive clause from the main clause.
  • In American English, the relative pronoun whom is used rarely. You may notice this in conversations, but it is best to use the term when writing to ensure that the work is grammatically correct.
There are five basic relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, that*

Who (subject) and whom (object) are generally only for people. Whose is for possession. Which is for things. That can be used for things and people only in defining relative clauses (clauses that are essential to the sentence and do not simply add extra information).**

Relative Pronouns Examples

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The following sentences contain examples of relative pronouns. The relative pronoun in each example is italicized.

  • The cyclist who won the race trained hard.
  • The frock that I bought yesterday are already stained.
  • She blamed herself for everything that had happened.
  • The four team leaders, whomever the board selects, will be at tomorrow’s meeting.
  • It’s the same cooker that my mother has. 
  • Spaghetti, which we eat at least twice a week, is one of my family’s favorite meals.
  • Where did you buy the dress what you wore last week?
  • The woman who I saw yesterday was Sheila.
  • That’s the dog who doesn’t like me. 
  • The book, when it was finally returned, was torn and stained.
  • It was Cathrene who Ian gave the keys to. It wasn’t me. 
  • The shop on the corner, where we usually buy all of our art supplies, burned to the ground.
  • Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
  • Another activity which/that I have chosen is photography.
  • The person that phoned me last night is my teacher
  • Mrs Pratt, who is very kind, is my teacher.
  • Students whose parents are wealthy pay extra.
  • The car, whose driver jumped out just before the accident, was completely destroyed.
  • We don’t know the person who donated this money.
  • We drove past my old school, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
  • He went to the school (that) my father went to.
  • I think there’d be a lot of children who’d love to have a climbing wall in school.
  • There’s this guy at work, who’s one of my friends, well he’s never been on a train.
  • Nicola phoned the fire brigade, who then alerted the police and social workers.
  • There are some very good art books which you can get ideas from.
  • He’s marrying a girl whose family don’t seem to like him. 
  • We met somebody last night that did the speech therapy course two years after you.(refers to a person)
  • The 8.30 is the train that you need to get. 
  • He finally remembers one lesson that his mum had taught him early – Don’t takemoney that doesn’t belong to you. 
  • We’ve got some tennis balls that you can play with
Who (subject) and whom (object) are generally only for people. Whose is for possession. Which is for things. That can be used for things and people only in defining relative clauses (clauses that are essential to the sentence and do not simply add extra information).**

List of Relative Pronouns

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Mentioned below is the list of Relative Pronouns:

  1. Who
  2. Whom
  3. That
  4. Which
  5. Whoever
  6. Whomever
  7. Whichever 
Others include: When, whichsoever, whosoever, whomsoever, whose, whosesoever whatever, whatsoever

Relative Pronouns Exercise

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The following exercises will help you understand relative pronouns. Choose the best answer to complete each sentence.

  1. The festival, ______________ lasted all day, ended with a banquet.
  2. I am looking for someone __________ can watch my dog while I go on vacation.
  3. The police needed details _____________ could help identify the robber.
  4. I’d like to take you to a café _______________ serves excellent coffee.
  5. The clubhouse, in __________ the dance was held, housed about 200 people.
  6. Penne, _____________ many of us enjoy, can be messy.
  7. You can choose one person, __________ you like, to share the cruise with you.
  8. I saw the shoes __________ you bought last week on sale for less this week.
  9. She wrote to the person _____________ she had met last month.
  10. The winners, __________ known, will receive money and other prizes.
  11. This is the place __________ we met.
  12. The baby, ________ nap had been interrupted, wailed loudly.
  13. We didn’t bring the receipt, _____________ was a big mistake.
  14. There was me and there was Charlotte, _____________ party it was, and then there were two other people. 
  15. This is the book _____________ everyone is talking about.
  16. It is a rambling Tuscon house, _____________ sitting room looks out over a wonderful walled garden. 
  17. I have a friend _____________ cat is annoying.
  18. You need to tick the box _____________ says yes. 
  19. He won’t have much time to prepare for the meeting, _____________ is this afternoon. 
  20. Grandma remembers a time _____________ radio shows were popular.
  21. She had to get up and walk all the way to the other side of the room, _____________ isn’t easy with a bad back.
  22. People _____________ are clever can always find a way.

*AP and SAT are registered trademarks of the College Board.