The relative pronouns who, which and that

When words like who, whom, which and that are used to introduce relative clauses, they are called relative pronouns. Who, which and that can be the subjects of verbs in relative clauses. Who refers to people and which refers to things. That can refer to both people and things.

What is the name of the fat woman who just came in? (NOT What is the name of the fat woman which just came in.)

Bring me the books which are on the table. (NOT Bring me the books who are on the table.)

He who does not work must not eat. OR He that does not work must not eat.

These are the books that I bought yesterday. OR These are the books which I bought yesterday.


Who, whom, which and that can also be used as the objects of verbs in relative clauses. Who is informal as an object. In a more formal style, whom is used.

The man whom you spoke to is deaf. (Formal)

The man who you spoke to is deaf. (Informal)

These are the books that/which you were looking for.


When and where as relative words

When and where can introduce relative clauses after nouns referring to time and place.

I will never forget the day when I first met Jane. (= I will never forget the day on which I first met Jane.)

Do you know a shop where I can buy cameras? (= Do you know a shop at which I can buy cameras?)

READ ALSO:  Glossary of Grammatical Terms

Double use of relative pronouns


Relative pronouns have a double use: they act as subjects or objects inside relative clauses, and at the same time they connect relative clauses to nouns or pronouns in other clauses. As the subject or object of a relative clause, a relative pronoun replaces a word like she or them. Note that one subject or object is enough in a relative clause. We don’t have to use two subjects.

He has got a daughter. She studies at Oxford.

He has got a daughter who studies at Oxford. (NOT He has got a daughter who she studies at Oxford.)

This is my daughter. I was telling you about her.

This is my daughter about whom I was telling you. (NOT This is my daughter I was telling you about her.) (NOT This is my daughter whom I was telling you about her.)

Here is an interesting article. You might like it.

Here is an interesting article which you might like. (NOT Here is an interesting article which you might like it.) (NOT Here is an interesting article you might like it.)

I have found the papers. You were looking for them.

I have found the papers which you were looking for. (NOT I have found the papers which you were looking for them.) (NOT I have found the papers you were looking for them.)

1. Relative pronouns worksheet: who and whom

Join together each of the following pairs of sentences by using the relative pronouns who and whom.

1.       I know a man. He has acted in a film.

2.       The thief stole the bicycle. The thief was caught.

3.       He is the doctor. The doctor cured me of malaria.

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4.       I met a boy. The boy was very handsome.

5.       He does his best. He should be rewarded.

6.       He is honest. He is trusted.

7.       My grandmother has passed away. I loved my grandmother very much.

8.       Wellington was a great general. He defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.

9.       There we met a boy. The boy had lost his way.

10.   He is a rogue. No one trusts him.

Answers

1.       I know a man who has acted in a film.

2.       The thief, who stole the bicycle, was caught.

3.       He is the doctor who cured me of malaria.

4.       I met a boy who was very handsome.

5.       He, who does his best, should be rewarded.

6.       He, who is honest, is trusted.

7.       My grandmother whom I loved very much has passed away.

8.       Wellington, who was a great general, defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo.

9.       There we met a boy who had lost his way.

10.      He is a rogue whom no one trusts.

2. Relative Pronouns Worksheet

Name the relative pronouns in the following sentences and mention their antecedent.

1.       The necklace that my mother gifted me is very expensive.

2.       The explanation that he gave isn’t reasonable.

3.       I know the woman whose child was hurt.

4.       Bring me the files which are on the table.

5.       This is the house that my grandfather built.

6.       The minister visited the men who were injured in the accident.

7.       Here is the book that you were looking for.

8.       I hate people who are dishonest.

READ ALSO:  Present Simple versus Present Continuous

9.       This is the singer whom we met yesterday.

10.   They that seek wisdom will be wise.

Answers

1.       Relative pronoun: that, antecedent: necklace

2.       Relative pronoun: that,  antecedent: explanation

3.       Relative pronoun: whose, antecedent: woman

4.       Relative pronoun: which, antecedent: files

5.       Relative pronoun: that, antecedent: house

6.       Relative pronoun: who, antecedent: men

7.       Relative pronoun: that, antecedent: book

8.       Relative pronoun: who, antecedent: people

9.       Relative pronoun: whom, antecedent: singer

10.   Relative pronoun: that, antecedent: they

When the actual subject is an infinitive phrase, we often begin the sentence with it. So for example, instead of saying ‘To retreat now would be foolish’, we say, ‘It would be foolish to retreat now’.

Sentence pattern: It + verb + subject complement + infinitive phrase (real subject)

It is easy to learn English. (More natural than ‘To learn English is easy.’)

It was difficult to understand his motive. (More natural than ‘To understand his motive was difficult.’)

It must be tempting to get such an offer. (More natural than ‘To get such an offer must be tempting.’)

It might be advisable to consult specialists. (More natural than ‘To consult specialists might be advisable.’)

It could be dangerous to drive so fast. (More natural than ‘To drive so fast could be dangerous.’)

It might be foolish to retreat now. (More natural than ‘To retreat now might be foolish.’)


However, when we wish to emphasize the infinitive phrase, it may be put at the beginning, especially if it is short.

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