Relative pronouns are the words that begin relative clauses. The following words can act as pronouns for this type of clause:
Identifying them can be confusing because they are not just used as relative pronouns. They also have other purposes. For example some can be used to introduce questions:
'That' can also be used as a determiner or to make noun clauses:
So don't assume when you see one of the pronouns that it's a relative clause you are looking at. But if you know how to write and recognise relative clauses, you should not have a problem identifying them.
In the examples below, the relative pronoun is in red, and the full clause is underlined.
In the examples given below, the relative pronoun is in red and the full relative clause is underlined.
We can use who when the subject of the relative clause is a person:
We don't tend to use who for animals, though it may be used for pets.
If the subject of the relative clause is a thing then we use which but not who. It is also used for animals:
That can be used instead of who or which in defining relative clauses, but not non-defining relative clauses. Remind yourself of the difference between defining and non-defining relative clauses if you are not sure.
In the examples we looked at above, they are all defining relative clauses, and so that can also be used:
We use whose to refer to possession. Whatever follows the relative pronoun whose will belong to the noun preceding whose:
Unlike who, whose can also be used for animals and things:
Whom is used instead of who when the relative pronoun is the object of the relative clause instead of the subject. It will be replacing him, her, them, or us.
The subject is the person or thing doing something, and the object is having something done to it:
Below, the first example shows you again how we use who. In this case it is replacing 'He', which is the subject of the sentence:
In the second example, the subject is 'My father', but this is not being replaced by the relative pronoun. Instead, the object is being replaced:
You will see that in the second case the, the word 'him' is being moved to make the relative pronoun.
So instead of the usual 'subject-verb' relative clause structure, where the relative pronoun is the subject:
We have this:
We tend to only use whom in formal situations, such as in writing. In most informal or even formal speaking situations, most people just use who.
What is used to mean 'the thing(s) that' or 'that which'. Unlike the other relative pronouns discussed above, it does not refer to a noun that comes before it:
Now test yourself in this relative pronoun quiz.
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