Relative Pronouns | Who, Whom, Whose, Which, That

Learn useful grammar rules to use Relative Pronouns (Who, Whom, Whose, Which, That) in English with examples.

What is a Relative Pronoun?

A relative pronoun is a pronoun that relates to the word that it modifies and is not specific. In English, relative pronouns are who, whom, which, whose, and that.

A relative pronoun links two clauses into a single complex clause. It is similar in function to a subordinating conjunction. Unlike a conjunction, however, a relative pronoun stands in place of a noun.

Relative Pronouns | Who, Whom, Whose, Which, That

Who

  • Used for people

The man who lives next door is 100 years old.

  • Can act as the subject or the object 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 subject 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)

Which

  • Used for things and animals

This is the room which he sleeps in.

Do you see the cat which is lying on the roof?

  • Can act as the subject or the object of the relative 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)

That

  • Used for people, things, and animals (who and which can be replaced by that, which we use commonly in spoken English)

I met the man that lives downstairs. (or who)

I like the car that he drives. (or which)

This is the dog that we found on the street. (or which)

  • Can act as the subject or the object of the relative clause

Don’t take money that doesn’t belong to you. (that refers to money and is the subject of belong in the relative clause)

It’s the same cooker that my mother has. (that refers to the same cooker and is the object of has in the relative clause)

Whose

  • Used for possessions of people, animals

I met a woman whose brother knows you.

Where is the elephant whose leg is broken?

Whom

  •  Used for people when the person is the object of the verb

The person whom I phoned last night is my teacher.

NOTE

The best way to know which pronoun to use is to look at the noun before it.

For example:

This is the car that I drove to Paris.” The noun before “that” is “car”, which is a thing, so we know we can use the pronouns “that” or “which”.

In the sentence “I know a woman who is a doctor.” The noun “woman” is a person, so we know we can use “who” or “that” after it.

Relative Pronoun Reduction

Relative pronouns can sometimes be left out; they are understood but not given in the sentence as in the following example:

I bought a book that my sister recommended. 

If the relative pronoun is the subject of its clause, then it must be kept. Otherwise, the relative pronoun can generally be dropped.

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