What Are Relative Pronouns?
English Relative Pronouns
There are five main relative pronouns in English:
The relative pronoun 'that' is very flexible, as it can be used to refer to both people and things.
I like girls
In this example, 'who' refers to 'girls'.
I like girls
Relative Pronouns as the Subject of Relative Clauses
To combine two sentences (or clauses) using a relative pronoun, we replace the subject of the second clause with the relative pronoun. The relative clause is the part of the sentence that contains the relative pronoun, which serves as the subject of the clause. Check out the examples.
are exciting. → He likes action movies
We can combine the two sentences by using the relative pronoun 'which' or 'that.'
is very kind. → I like my mom
We take the subject of the second clause 'she' and replace it with the relative pronoun 'who'.
In the above examples the words 'who' and 'that' are the subjects of the relative clauses.
Relative Pronouns as the Object of Relative Clauses
Relative pronouns can also be used as the object of a relative clause. To combine two sentences in this way, we can replace the object of the second sentence with a relative pronoun and move it to the beginning of the sentence to form a relative clause. Pay attention to the examples:
He likes thriller movies. He can watch
with friends. → He likes thriller movies (
Here, we take the word 'them' (the object of the second clause) and replace it with the relative pronoun 'that.' So that becomes the object of the clause.
Note that when relative pronouns are used as the object of a sentence, we can omit the relative pronoun and the sentence would still make sense. But remember this is
He likes thriller movies he can watch with friends.
As you can see, omitting the relative pronoun (that) which replaced the object, makes no difference in the meaning of the sentence.
It is grammatically incorrect to include both the relative pronoun and the subject or object in a relative clause, as the pronoun is meant to replace the subject or object.
He likes movies that are exciting. (Not 'He likes movies
that they are exciting'.)
'They' (subject) is replaced by 'that,' so we cannot use it again.
He likes friends that he can talk to. (Not He likes friends that he can talk to
'Them' (object) is replaced by 'that,' so we cannot use it again.
Don't Forget the Prepositions
If the verb in the sentence requires a preposition, the preposition
He likes to have friends. He can have fun with
. → He likes to have friends he can have fun
Here, we're only allowed to omit 'them.'
The Object Form of Who
The object form of 'who' is technically 'whom.' We can use 'whom' as the object of a verb or preposition. However, in modern English 'whom' is not used frequently, and 'who' is commonly used as both the subject and object of a relative clause.
This is my mom,
This is my mom,
The Possessive Form of Who
The possessive form of 'who' is 'whose*.' 'Whose' can be used for people, animals, or things.
It's the cat
The kitten belongs to the cat and 'whose' indicates the possession while relating two clauses.
He's a boy
Here in this example, 'whose' can both indicate possession and mark the relative clause.
That or Which/Who?
To determine when to use the relative pronoun 'that' - which can refer to people, animals, or things - it is important to understand the distinction between restrictive (also called essential) and non-restrictive (also called non-essential) clauses.
- A restrictive clause is necessary to distinguish the noun or pronoun from others of the same type
Restrictive clauses cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence and are not set off by commas. When talking about a thing or an animal, the restrictive clause begins with 'that'. However, if the subject is a human, 'who' is used to introduce the restrictive clause.
- A non-restrictive clause provides additional, non-essential information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence.
A non-restrictive clause is not necessary to identify the noun or pronoun being referred to, and can be removed without changing the basic meaning of the sentence. Furthermore, non-restrictive clauses are set off by commas.
When the subject of the sentence is a thing or an animal, the non-restrictive clause should start with 'which.'
Here the non-restrictive clause tells us that the house was painted red. But it does not tell us which of the several red houses in the neighborhood was sold. It would be incorrect to use this nonrestrictive clause if there had been only one house painted red.
However, if the subject is a human, 'who' is used to introduce the non-restrictive clause.
So how do we distinguish between a restrictive or non-restrictive clause with a human subject? We distinguish a non-restrictive clause from a restrictive clause by using commas.
Relative pronouns and relative adverbs are basically used in the middle of sentences and clauses to connect them.
|to refer to things||which|
|to refer to people and things||that|
|to refer to people||who|
|the possessive form of who||whose|
|the objective form of who||whom|
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Indefinite pronouns refer to people or things without saying exactly who or what they are. In this lesson, we will learn more about these pronouns.
Dummy pronouns function grammatically the same as other pronouns, except they do not refer to a person or thing like normal pronouns do.
When two or more people are doing the same thing and receiving the consequences of that action at the same time we use reciprocal pronouns.
An impersonal pronoun does not refer to a specific person or thing. These pronouns help us talk about a thing or person without mentioning what or who.
Nominal Relative Pronouns
Nominal relative pronouns are also known as free relative pronouns are used to introduce a relative clause. Click here to learn!