The relative pronouns are:

 

Subject Object Possessive
who who(m) whose
which which whose
that that  

 


We use who and whom for people, and which for things.
Or we can use that for people or things.

We use relative pronouns:

after a noun, to make it clear which person or thing we are talking about:

the house that Jack built
the woman who discovered radium
an eight-year-old boy who attempted to rob a sweet shop

to tell us more about a person or thing:

My mother, who was born overseas, has always been a great traveller.
Lord Thompson, who is 76, has just retired.
We had fish and chips, which is my favourite meal.

But we do not use that as a subject in this kind of relative clause.

We use whose as the possessive form of who:

This is George, whose brother went to school with me.

We sometimes use whom as the object of a verb or preposition:

This is George, whom you met at our house last year.
This is George’s brother, with whom I went to school.

But nowadays we normally use who:

This is George, who you met at our house last year.
This is George’s brother, who I went to school with.

When whom or which have a preposition the preposition can come at the beginning of the clause...

I had an uncle in Germany, from who[m] I inherited a bit of money.
We bought a chainsaw, with which we cut up all the wood.

or at the end of the clause:

I had an uncle in Germany who[m] I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought a chainsaw, which we cut all the wood up with.

We can use that at the beginning of the clause:

I had an uncle in Germany that I inherited a bit of money from.
We bought a chainsaw that we cut all the wood up with.

Exercise

Comments

hi
it is correct to say: this is the man whose phone was lost! or this is the man who lost his phone!

Hi Abdel El,

Both of those sentences are correct. In the second sentence (who lost) we know that the man lost his own phone. In the first sentence it is not clear if the man lost his own phone or if someone else lost it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Ken,

The list of roles in your second link is fine. Sometimes an adverbial function is attributed, but the item is then a relative adverb rather than a relative pronoun.

Relative pronouns can act as the subject (not subject complement) of the relative clause.

If you have a particular example in mind we'll be happy to comment on it.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi!

Is this sentece, '' He is not the man that he once was. '', grammatical?I saw this sentence on my grammar book. If it is grammatical , what's the role of '' that ''?

Thank you.

Hi Ken,

The sentence is correct. 'That' is a relative pronoun introducing a defining relative clause. You could replace 'that' with 'who'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I read that "that" is used for defining clauses, whereas "which" is used for non-defining clauses. In this sentence, should I use "that" instead of "which”? "The carpets which you bought are gone.”

Thank you very much

Hello kakakevin,

We can use both 'that' and 'which' in defining relative clauses, but we cannot use 'that' in non-defining relative clauses.

Your example sentence contains a defining relative clause and so both 'that' and 'which' are possible; neither is incorrect.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter.
I was woken up by some strange noise ......... the apartment above mine.
1. which was coming from
2. which came from

Hello amirfd,

Both are possible here. Which you choose is a question of preference and context.

Generally, we don't provide answers to questions from elsewhere like this one. If we did, then we would end up doing people's homework and tests for them!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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