Relative Pronouns in English and Their Usage

Relative pronouns

Relative pronouns are used to introduce a type of dependent clause which is the relative clauses.

Relative clauses modify a phrase, word or idea in the main clause. These words, ideas or phrases are known as antecedents.

What is relative pronouns

Definition: A relative pronoun is one which refers to previously mentioned nouns in a sentence. The nouns can either be places, animals, people things or ideas.

Types of relative pronouns

The most common relative pronouns include the following:

  1. That

It is a relative pronoun used to introduce a defining clause to state a reason or a purpose.

It is used to refer to a person, idea or an object

  1. Whose

It is a relative pronoun which means associated with or belonging to a person

  1. Which

It is a relative pronoun which is used to refer to something that was previously mentioned and is used when a clause giving more information was introduced

  1. Who/Whom

Who is a relative pronoun used to introduce a clause which is giving more information about people or a person that was previously mentioned

Whom is a relative pronoun used in written or formal English instead of “who” and this is when it is the object of the preposition or object of the verb

  1. Whoever/Whomever

Whoever is a relative pronoun which is used to refer to a person whose identity is not yet known

Whomever is a relative pronoun which is used instead of the pronoun “whoever” when it is the object of the verb or object of the preposition

“What”, “when” and “where” can also function as relative pronouns in some situations

  1. What

It means ‘that which’ when used as a relative pronoun

  1. When

It is used in the modifying clause instead of the object noun

  1. Where

It is used to join modifying clause and is also known as location-relative pronoun

When to use relative pronouns

There are several ways or rules when using relative pronouns.

The rules include the following:

  • If relative pronouns introduce the restrictive relative clauses, no comma is used to separate the main clause from the restrictive pronoun.
  • Relative pronouns usually introduce relative clauses, and they (relative pronouns) can function as an object, subject or possessive pronoun.
  • The relative pronoun “whom” is rarely used in America English.

It is evident during conversations, but the pronoun is used when writing for your work to be grammatically correct

The following are ways of relative pronoun usage in sentences:

Usage of relative pronouns in modifying the subject.

In the following examples, whom and that modify the subject

  • The book that Mary bought is fascinating.
  • The teacher, whom I respect, got a promotion.

-The type of clause used determines the kind of relative pronoun to be used. There are two general types of clauses that are:

  • restrictive (defining) clause
  • non-restrictive (non-defining) clause

The relative pronoun can function as an object, subject or possessive pronoun in both the above clauses.

Usage of relative pronouns in restrictive relative clauses

As mentioned in the above rules, in restrictive relative clause introduced by relative pronouns, the relative pronoun is not separated by a coma from the main clause. Restrictive (defining) clauses give essential information in the main clause about the antecedent.

The information is essential for understanding correctly the meaning of the sentence hence cannot be omitted. For instance, the sentence does not make any sense without the restrictive relative clause.

The following shows the use of relative pronouns in restrictive relative clauses:

a). Relative pronouns used in a restrictive clause as a subject of the restrictive clause.

Examples in sentences include the following:

  • This is the book that explained the farming techniques.
  • It took her a while to like people who talk too much.

b). Relative pronouns used in the restrictive clause as an object of the restrictive clause.

The relative pronoun can be omitted in the object position when referring to a thing or a person but it is included in the formal English

“which” is used instead of “that” when the relative pronoun is the object of the preposition.

For example: “through which,” “for which,” “in which,” “about which” etc.

The following shows examples of relative pronouns used as an object of the restrictive clause in formal and informal English

An example will be as follows: (in formal English)

  • This is the boy to whom I was talking to and whose names I had forgotten

In informal English, an example in a sentence will be as follows:

  • This is the boy I was talking to and to whose names I had forgotten
  1. An example will be as follows: (in formal English)
  • The chemist did not have the medication that I wanted
  • In informal English, an example in a sentence will be as follows:
  • The chemist did not have the medication I wanted

An example will be as follows:(in formal English)

There is the place where/in which I sold my furniture

In informal English, an example will be as follows:

  • There is the place I sold my furniture

The word ‘whom’ is not used very often in American English. It (whom) is more formal than who and is usually omitted while speaking

During a conversation, an example of a sentence would look like this:

  • The man you have just talked to is my father or;
  • The man who you have just talked to is my father.

-In a grammatically correct sentence, the above example would look like this:

  • The man to whom you have just spoken is my father

-Note that you should not omit “whom” if a preposition precedes it because in this case, the relative pronoun acts as the object of the preposition.

For instance, an example in a sentence is as follows:

  • The lecturer for whom you were waiting has just arrived

c). Relative pronouns used in a restrictive relative clause as a possessive

The only possessive relative pronoun in English is whose and its antecedent can be both things and people.

Examples in sentences will be as follows:

  • The article whose writer won the prize has been the most sold in the market.
  • Their respective insurance companies compensated the people whose vehicles crashed in the accident

Usage of relative pronouns in non-restrictive relative clauses

In non-restrictive relative clauses introduced by relative pronouns, the relative pronouns are separated from the main clause by a comma.

‘which’ is the preferred relative pronoun to show that a relative pronoun is non-restrictive

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Non-defining (non-restrictive) relative clauses provide non-essential information in the main clause about the antecedent. This information is not essential for understanding the meaning of the sentence correctly, and if omitted, it does not affect the original meaning of the sentence. It shows that non-restrictive relative clauses only add extra information to the sentence.

The following shows the use of relative pronouns in non-restrictive relative clauses:

a.) When used as a subject of a non-restrictive relative clause

An example in a sentence ill look like this:

  • The church service, which lasted for three hours, was so interesting
  • The ceremony turned out to be so amazing, which started with a lot of issues

b.) Used as an object of the non-restrictive relative clause

An example in a sentence will be as follows:

  • The novel, which she wanted, was already taken by another person
  • The room, in which the meeting was conducted, accommodated 100 people.

“That” vs. “Which” and “Who”

That is only used in restrictive clauses.

It can also be used instead of who when referring to persons or instead of which when referring to things. It applies in informal English.

Which and who are more common in formal written English whereas that is often used while speaking.

-An example of a conversational and informal sentence will be as follows:

  • Brian Mitt was a teacher that lived in the twentieth century and had unique teaching skills

-A written and formal sentence will look like this:

  • Brian Mitt was a teacher who lived in the twentieth century and had unique teaching skills

– An example of a conversational and informal sentence will be as follows:

  • The chair that has broken is in the store

-A written and formal sentence will look like this:

  • The chair which has broken is in the store

Special uses of some relative pronouns in reflective clauses

These include relative pronouns such as:

That / who

Both who and that can are used when referring to people in informal language.

Who is used in formal language when speaking about a particular person

Examples in sentences will be as follows:

  • The young woman who lives in the neighborhood is a farmer
  • The girl who came yesterday was beautiful

That is used to refer to the abilities or characteristics of a group of people or an individual

Examples in sentences will look like this:

  • She is the kind of a friend that/who will never leave your side in times of trouble
  • She is looking for someone that/who will show her teach her how to draw

That / which

That is more appropriate than which as used in different sentences in several cases.

For instance, that is used:

  1. a) After the noun which is modified by an adjective in a superlative degree

Examples in sentences are as follows:

  • It was the best novel that I have ever read
  • Their classroom is the tidiest classroom that I have ever seen
  1. b) It is also used after the pronouns such as all, few, little, many, much, none, anything, everything, nothing and something

Examples in sentences will look like this:

  • -She wanted every piece of information that concerned the accident
  • -He asked for all the notes that the lecturer gave out
  • -She hates everything that was saying
  • -There were a few utensils that they left in their old house
  • -There was not much that she could say after failing in her end of semester examination
  • -She had something in her mind that she wanted to say but it was too late.

Examples of relative pronouns

The following include examples of the relative pronouns in sentences

  1. Who

The preacher who read the scripture came yesterday

  1. That

The clothes that I bought yesterday are missing

  1. Whomever

The three contestants, whomever the judge selects, will be the winner of the year.

  1. Which

Rice, which we eat thrice in a week, is my favorite meal.

  1. When

The mat, when we finally found it, was torn and dirty.

  1. Where

Where did you last saw her?

  1. Whoever

Whoever wins in this competition should be given a present

  1. Whose

The mother, whose baby was crying, went outside the hall

When to use who and whom?

Who and whom are both relative pronouns however

Who is used as a subject of a clause or a sentence to the person doing something, for instance, she or he, whereas whom is used as an indirect or direct object of a preposition or object of a verb.

Who as a subject of the sentence indicates the person doing the action. For example, in a sentence, if someone ate the chocolate, it will look like this:

  • Who ate the chocolate?

Whom when used as a direct object of the verb or the preposition, an example in a sentence will be as follows:

  • Whom did they defeat?

When whom is used as an indirect object following a preposition, an example in a sentence will be as follows:

  • To whom did you preach today?

Whoever vs whomever

Whoever is a subject pronoun and its usage being the same as those of subject pronouns he, I, she and they. In a sentence, they refer to the person doing the action of the verb

Whomever is an object pronoun, and its usage is the same as those of object pronouns him, her, us, me and them. It serves as a direct object of the verb or preposition.

With this guide you are good to go concerning relative pronouns.