Relative Pronouns

What is a relative pronoun?

A relative pronoun is one which is used to refer to nouns mentioned previously, whether they are people, places, things, animals, or ideas. Relative pronouns can be used to join two sentences. The most common relative pronouns are who, whom, whose, which, that. The relative pronoun we use depends on what we are referring to and the type of relative clause.

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. Because there are only a few of them, there are also just a few rules for using relative pronouns. Keep them in mind as you write.

  • Relative clauses are typically introduced by relative pronouns, and that the relative pronoun can function as a possessive pronoun, an object, or a subject.
  • When relative pronouns introduce restrictive 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 your work is grammatically correct.
Subject Object Possessive
who who(m) whose
which which whose
that that


When do we use relative pronouns?

We use who and whom for people, and which for things.
Or we can use that for people or things.

We use relative pronouns:

• after a noun, to make it clear which person or thing we are talking about:

the house that Jack built
the woman who discovered radium
an eight-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.

But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause.

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.
This is George’s brother, with whom I went to school.

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.

When whom 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.

We can use that at the beginning of the clause:

I had an uncle in Germany that I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought a chainsaw that we cut all the wood up with.

Indefinite pronouns (Prev Lesson)
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