Relative Pronouns: Definition, Rules & Useful Examples

Relative pronouns are an essential part of the English language. They connect a dependent clause to an independent clause and help to provide more information about the noun or pronoun being referenced. Some of the most common relative pronouns include who, whom, whose, which, and that.

Relative pronouns are used to introduce a relative clause, which can provide additional information about the noun or pronoun being discussed. For example, “The book that she borrowed from the library was overdue” uses “that” as a relative pronoun to connect the dependent clause “that she borrowed from the library” to the independent clause “The book was overdue.” This helps to clarify which book is being discussed and provides more information about its status.

Understanding how to use relative pronouns correctly is essential for effective communication in English. By using them correctly, speakers and writers can provide more information about the nouns and pronouns they are discussing, making it easier for their audience to understand the intended meaning.

Definition of Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun is a type of pronoun that is used to introduce a subordinate clause in a sentence. These clauses modify a noun or pronoun in the main clause, providing additional information about it. Relative pronouns connect the dependent clause to the main clause, making it easier to understand the relationship between the two.

In English grammar, the most commonly used relative pronouns are whowhomwhosewhich, and that. These pronouns are used to refer to people, animals, things, or ideas that have been previously mentioned in the sentence.

Relative pronouns can be used in various ways in a sentence. They can be used as the subject or object of the dependent clause, as well as the possessive determiner. For example:

  • The girl who won the race is my friend. (subject)
  • The book which I borrowed from the library is due tomorrow. (object)
  • The man whose car was stolen reported it to the police. (possessive determiner)

Relative pronouns are an essential part of English grammar, and they help to create complex sentences that convey more information. Understanding how to use them correctly can improve the clarity and coherence of your writing.

List of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are words that are used to introduce relative clauses. These clauses provide additional information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence. The most common relative pronouns in English are:

  • Who: used to refer to people as the subject of the sentence or clause.
  • Whom: used to refer to people as the object of the sentence or clause.
  • Which: used to refer to animals or things.
  • That: used to refer to people, animals, or things.
  • Whose: used to indicate possession.

For example, in the sentence “The woman who came to the door left flowers for you,” “who” is a relative pronoun that introduces the relative clause “who came to the door.”

In some cases, relative pronouns can be omitted. This is often seen in informal speech or writing, but it is not considered correct in formal writing.

It is important to note that the choice of relative pronoun depends on the noun or pronoun being referred to and the type of relative clause being used. In some cases, more than one relative pronoun could be used.

Overall, understanding the different relative pronouns and when to use them is crucial for clear and effective communication in written and spoken English.

Examples of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are used to connect clauses and phrases in a sentence. They help to clarify the relationship between the clauses and provide additional information about the noun or pronoun they are referring to. Here are some examples of relative pronouns:

Subject Pronouns

Subject pronouns are used to refer to the subject of a sentence. They include “who,” “that,” and “which.” For example:

  • The man who is wearing a green shirt is my brother.
  • The book that I read last night was really interesting.
  • The car which is parked outside belongs to my neighbor.

Object Pronouns

Object pronouns are used to refer to the object of a sentence. They include “whom,” “that,” and “which.” For example:

  • The woman whom I met at the party is a doctor.
  • The pen that I borrowed from you is on the desk.
  • The cake which I baked yesterday turned out really well.

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns are used to show ownership and include “whose” and “of which.” For example:

  • The dog whose tail is wagging is very friendly.
  • The house of which the roof is red is for sale.

Compound Relative Pronouns

Compound relative pronouns are used to combine two relative pronouns into one. They include “whoever,” “whomever,” “whatever,” and “whichever.” For example:

  • Whoever comes first will get a prize.
  • Whomever you choose will be a great addition to the team.
  • Whatever you decide, I will support you.
  • Whichever route you take, you will reach the destination.

Nonrestrictive Clauses

Nonrestrictive clauses provide additional information about the noun or pronoun they are referring to but can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. They are set off by commas and include “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” and “that.” For example:

  • My sister, who lives in New York, is coming to visit me.
  • The book, which was written by my favorite author, is on the bestseller list.
  • The car, whose owner is unknown, has been parked here for a week.

Restrictive Clauses

Restrictive clauses provide essential information about the noun or pronoun they are referring to and cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. They do not require commas and include “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” and “that.” For example:

  • The man who is wearing a green shirt is my brother.
  • The book that I read last night was really interesting.
  • The car which is parked outside belongs to my neighbor.

These are just a few examples of relative pronouns and how they are used in sentences. By using relative pronouns correctly, you can make your writing more clear and concise.

Relative Pronouns

Usage

Example

Who Used for people(Subject) Who are all those people?
Whom Used for people(Object) To whom do you wish to speak?
Which Used for objects Which of your parents do you feel closer to?
Whose Used to show possession Whose keys are on the kitchen counter?
Where Refers to places Where is my T-shirt?
When Refer to time When are you going?
Why Refer to reason Why did you choose me?
What Relates to things What size shoes do you take?
That Relates to people, animals and things Is this the train that goes to Braintree?

Functions of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns play an important role in connecting dependent clauses to independent clauses. They are used to introduce additional information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence. This section will explore the two main functions of relative pronouns: Adjective Clauses and Conjunctions.

Adjective Clauses

Relative pronouns are commonly used to introduce adjective clauses that provide more information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence. Adjective clauses are also known as relative clauses. They can either be restrictive or nonrestrictive. Restrictive clauses provide essential information about the noun or pronoun and are not separated from the main clause by a comma. Nonrestrictive clauses provide additional, but not essential, information about the noun or pronoun and are separated from the main clause by commas.

Relative pronouns that are commonly used to introduce adjective clauses include:

  • Who: used to refer to people
  • Whom: used to refer to people, but only in formal writing
  • Whose: used to show possession
  • Which: used to refer to things or animals
  • That: used to refer to people, things, or animals

For example:

  • The book that I read last night was really interesting. (Restrictive clause)
  • My friend, who is a doctor, gave me some medical advice. (Nonrestrictive clause)

Conjunctions

Relative pronouns can also function as conjunctions to combine parts of a sentence. They are used to connect two independent clauses, and the relative pronoun acts as the subject of the dependent clause that follows.

Relative pronouns that are commonly used as conjunctions include:

  • Who: used to refer to people
  • Whom: used to refer to people, but only in formal writing
  • Whoever: used to refer to people in a more general sense
  • Whichever: used to refer to things or animals
  • That: used to refer to people, things, or animals

For example:

  • She decided to hire the candidate who had the most experience. (Conjunction)
  • Whoever wins the race will get a prize. (Conjunction)

Overall, relative pronouns serve as a crucial component of sentence structure, connecting dependent clauses to independent clauses and providing additional information about nouns and pronouns.

Usage of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are used to connect two clauses, where one clause describes or provides more information about the noun or pronoun in the other clause. In this section, we will discuss when to use relative pronouns and common mistakes to avoid.

When to Use Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are used when we want to combine two sentences that have related information. They are used to avoid repeating the same noun or pronoun in both sentences. The most common relative pronouns are “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” and “that.”

Here are some examples of how to use relative pronouns:

  • The girl who won the race is my sister. (The relative pronoun “who” connects the noun “girl” to the verb “won.”)
  • The book that I read last night was very interesting. (The relative pronoun “that” connects the noun “book” to the verb “read.”)
  • The car, which is parked outside, belongs to my neighbor. (The relative pronoun “which” connects the noun “car” to the verb “belongs.”)

Mistakes to Avoid

When using relative pronouns, it is important to avoid common mistakes that can affect the clarity and meaning of your sentences. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

  • Using “that” instead of “who” or “whom” when referring to people. For example, “The woman that I met yesterday” should be “The woman whom I met yesterday.”
  • Using “which” instead of “that” when referring to a non-essential clause. For example, “The book, which I read last night, was very interesting” should be “The book that I read last night was very interesting.”
  • Using a relative pronoun that does not match the noun it is referring to in gender or number. For example, “The boy who lost his hat” should be “The girl who lost her hat.”

By using relative pronouns correctly and avoiding common mistakes, you can improve the clarity and effectiveness of your writing.

Additional Information

Relative pronouns are used to connect dependent clauses to independent clauses and provide additional information about the noun or pronoun in the independent clause. Here are some important things to keep in mind when using relative pronouns:

Commas with Relative Clauses

When using a relative clause to provide additional information about a noun or pronoun, it is important to use commas correctly. If the information in the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence, then no commas are necessary. However, if the information is non-essential, then commas should be used to set it off.

For example: “The book that I read last night was really good.” In this sentence, the relative clause “that I read last night” is essential to the meaning of the sentence, so no commas are needed. However, in the sentence “My friend, who is a doctor, recommended this book,” the relative clause “who is a doctor” is non-essential and should be set off by commas.

Prepositions with Relative Pronouns

When using a relative pronoun as the object of a preposition, it is important to choose the correct pronoun. “Who” should be used when referring to people, while “which” should be used when referring to animals or things. “That” can be used for either people or things, but it is less formal.

For example: “The woman to whom I spoke was very helpful.” In this sentence, “whom” is used because it is the object of the preposition “to.” In the sentence “The dog which I adopted is very friendly,” “which” is used because it refers to an animal.

Ambiguity in Relative Clauses

Ambiguity can arise when the antecedent of a relative pronoun is unclear. To avoid confusion, it is important to make sure that the antecedent is clear and unambiguous.

For example: “I saw the man with the telescope who was looking at the stars.” In this sentence, it is unclear whether the man or the telescope is looking at the stars. To clarify the meaning, the sentence could be rewritten as “I saw the man who was looking at the stars with the telescope.”

Overall, using relative pronouns to provide additional information can be a powerful tool for writers. By keeping in mind these important considerations, writers can ensure that their meaning is clear and unambiguous.

Conclusion

Relative pronouns are an important part of the English language, and they are used to join clauses together in a way that makes sense. By using relative pronouns, writers can provide more information about a subject without having to start a new sentence or paragraph.

There are several types of relative pronouns, including who, whom, whose, which, and that. Each of these pronouns has a specific use, and it’s important to understand how to use them correctly in order to communicate effectively.

When using relative pronouns, it’s important to remember that they should always refer to a noun or pronoun in the sentence. This helps to ensure that the sentence is clear and easy to understand.

Overall, relative pronouns are an essential part of the English language, and they are used in a variety of contexts, including academic writing, literature, and everyday conversation. By mastering the use of relative pronouns, writers can improve the clarity and effectiveness of their writing, helping them to communicate more effectively with their readers.

Relative Pronouns | Infographic

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a relative pronoun and a relative adverb?

A relative pronoun is used to introduce a relative clause that gives further information about the preceding noun or noun phrase. Examples of relative pronouns are which, that, who, and whom. On the other hand, a relative adverb is used to modify a verb, adjective, or other adverb and introduce a relative clause. Examples of relative adverbs are when, where, and why.

How do you use relative pronouns to join sentences?

Relative pronouns can be used to join two sentences by creating a relative clause that modifies the noun or pronoun in the first sentence. For example, “The book that I am reading is very interesting” joins two sentences, “I am reading a book” and “The book is very interesting,” using the relative pronoun “that.”

What are some common examples of relative pronouns?

The most commonly used relative pronouns in English are which, that, who, and whom. These words can also function as other parts of speech and are not exclusively used as relative pronouns.

What is a relative clause and how does it relate to relative pronouns?

A relative clause is a clause that gives further information about the preceding noun or noun phrase and is introduced by a relative pronoun. For example, “The man who is wearing a hat is my neighbor” has a relative clause “who is wearing a hat” that modifies the noun “man.”

What are some exercises to practice using relative pronouns?

One exercise to practice using relative pronouns is to write sentences that use different relative pronouns to modify the same noun. Another exercise is to identify the relative pronoun and the noun it modifies in given sentences.

What are the rules for using relative pronouns in English grammar?

The rules for using relative pronouns in English grammar include using “who” for people, “which” for animals and things, “that” for people, animals, and things, and “whom” as the object of a verb or preposition. The relative pronoun should agree in number and gender with the noun it modifies, and it should be placed as close as possible to the noun.

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Vania
Vania
3 years ago

But these are interrogative pronouns, not relatives in some of the examples.

Mojtaba Arjomandi
Mojtaba Arjomandi
2 years ago

My kind professors, when we use the interrogative pronoun “who,” sometimes, we don’t know for example how many people are playing piano in the house. or How many people are cleaning the house; it sounds that we had better write ***who plays the piano?” or ***who cleans the house?*** instead of writing who are playing the piano? or who are cleaning the house?
I prefer to write “Who cleans the house?”
would you mind if I asked you to guide me?
With kind regards,
Mojtaba Arjomandi (PhD)
00989177327626
iranma4@gmail.com

Mojtaba Arjomandi
Mojtaba Arjomandi
2 years ago

Moreover, I should thank you, your website is helpful and constructive,
With kind regards,
Mojtaba Arjomandi
iranma4copy@gmail.com

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