This lesson helps us understand what a relative pronoun is, what it does in a sentence, and when it is used. There is a youtube video on ‘relative pronouns’ attached at the end; you can directly scroll down to the video if you want to.
What is a relative pronoun in English?
|That||refers to both people and things|
|Which||refers to things|
|Who||refers to people|
|Whom||refers to people|
|Whose||refers to the possession of a person/thing|
|Why||refers to a reason|
|When||refers to a time word|
|Where||refers to a place word|
People who wake up early in the morning are believed to be more productive.
In this example, the relative pronoun ‘who’ refers to the noun ‘people’ and works as the subject of the relative/adjective clause (who wake up early in the morning). Notice that the relative clause gives information about the noun ‘people‘ and functions as an adjective.
Please note that relative clauses are nothing but adjective clauses. These are dependent clauses that start with a relative pronoun and modify a noun they sit right next to.
Have you gone through the document that I shared with you yesterday morning?
‘That‘, in this example, is a relative pronoun that refers to the noun ‘document‘. It comes at the beginning of the relative clause (that I shared with you yesterday morning) and connects it to the independent clause.
The movie that we watched last month was about a man who loses his family in an accident.
‘That‘ and ‘who‘ are the two relative pronouns in the sentence. The pronoun ‘that‘ refers to the noun ‘movie’ and works as the object of the relative clause (that we watched), and the pronoun ‘who‘ refers to the noun ‘man’ and works as the subject of the relative clause (who loses his family in an accident).
- It can refer to both people and things.
- The relative clause starting with the relative pronoun ‘that’ gives essential information.
- It can function as the subject or the object of a verb or preposition.
- The project that I am working on is really exciting.
- My boss didn’t like the guy that you brought the other day.
- The cake that you baked for me was heavenly.
- You are the man that we are looking for.
- It only refers to people.
- The relative clause starting with the relative pronoun ‘who’ can give both essential and nonessential information.
- It functions as the subject of the relative clause.
- The girl who is sitting next to Max is my ex-girlfriend.
- Jon Jones, who is one of the most talented and famous UFC fighters, was arrested last night.
- I don’t know anyone who can get this for you.
- All of us are excited to meet David Kin, who is a renowned public speaker.
- It only refers to people.
- The relative clause starting with the relative pronoun ‘whom’ can give both essential and nonessential information.
- It functions as the object of a verb or preposition in the relative clause.
- I don’t like the guy whom you hired for the coding work.
- The candidate whom we have finalized seems to have all the tools to take things forward.
- Ron Charles, whom everyone hates in the company, is the head of the HR department.
- The family whom you were arguing with at the parking lot lives next to my house.
- It only refers to things.
- It is used to give nonessential information in a relative clause.
- It can function as the subject or the object of a verb/preposition in the relative clause.
- Rajiv Chowk, which is one of the most famous metro stations in Delhi, is the place where I used to meet her.
- We are meeting at Hudson Lane, which is a place famous for pubs.
- Mangoes, which I am a big fan of eating, are very expensive here.
- It refers to the possession of a person or thing.
- It can give essential or nonessential information.
- The man whose house we had dinner at last night is a trained fighter.
- She is one of the few people whose opinion I really take seriously.
- Dominick Reyes, whose son is a famous singer, is going to teach us Marketing Management.
- He is the man whose daughter you are dating.
- It refers to time words: day, year, time, month, etc.
- It usually gives essential information.
- It refers to the time of the action and also works as an adverb.
- I still remember the day when all my friends showed up at my place at midnight to celebrate my birthday.
- He is talking about the time when we got lost in a forest in Nepal.
- I don’t think the day when he accepts his mistakes would be coming soon.
- You will start doing better the moment when you stop doubting yourself.
- It refers to a place (noun).
- It usually gives essential information.
- It refers to the place of the action and also works as an adverb.
- Do you remember the place where we had our first date?
- This is the house where I was brought up.
- Let’s go to the place where they sell chocolate puffs.
- This is not a place where you can smoke.
- It usually refers to the noun ‘reason’.
- It usually gives essential information.
- It refers to the reason for the action and also works as an adverb.
- The reason why he is upset is because you called him a liar.
- Do you have a reason why you are here?
- Only Jon knows the reason why the company has fired you.
- The reason why he drinks so much is absurd.
NOTE: the relative/adjective clauses that give nonessential information about a noun are offset from the sentence using commas before and after them.
The role of a relative pronoun
The object of a preposition
- She is not the girl whom I was talking about.
- You are not a person whom I can bet on.
The direct object
- I can tell you things that I do.
- None of us knows anything about the girl whom he is dating.
- Do you really want to buy the property that we saw last week?
The indirect object
- I want to see the guy to whom you gifted your favorite bike.
- He is the man to whom I wrote a big cheque.
The subject of the clause
- Ronnie, who is a good friend of mine, has been selected for IPL.
The mechanic who came to repair the car is a fraud.
- The building that is red in color is being auctioned.
The object complement
- Is he the guy whom you call Doodo?
- You are the only person whom I consider a true friend.
Important points to note about relative pronouns
1. The relative pronouns WHO can be used in an essential adjective clause or a non-essential adjective clause.
- The boy who was selling notebooks at the stand was homeless. (essential)
- Manasi Sharma, who was my math teacher in school, is getting married next week. (non-essential)
2. The relative pronoun ‘THAT‘ can refer to both a person and a thing.
- I lost the ring that you gave me on my last birthday. (referring to a thing ‘ring’)
- The girl that he is dating is a model. (referring to a person ‘girl’)
3. ‘That‘ can be used in place of ‘who‘ in an adjective clause as ‘that’ can be used to refer to both a person and a thing.
- The man who is standing next to Simran is a magician.
- The man that is standing next to Simran is a magician.
Though grammatically possible and somewhat common in usage, the relative pronoun ‘that’ is used less to refer to people in comparison with the relative pronoun ‘who’.
NOTE: When ‘that‘ refers to a thing, ‘who‘ can’t be used in place of it. It is only possible when ‘that’ refers to a person.
- Do you still have the mobile that your father gifted you in 2015? ✅
- Do you still have the mobile who your father gifted you in 2015? ❌
4. We can omit the relative pronoun in some cases.
The relative pronouns (that and whom) can usually be omitted when they function as the object of the verb or the object of the preposition
- She is the girl whom I love.
- She is the girl I love.
- The movie that we watched last week was amazing.
- The movie we watched last week was amazing.
- The match that we watched at his house was epic.
- The match we watched at his house was epic.
- This is the girl whom I want to talk to.
- This is the girl I want to talk to.
But if the relative pronoun itself works as the subject of the adjective clause, don’t omit it.
- He is the person who can get you out of this situation.
- He is the person can get you out of this situation. ❌
NOTE: relative adverbs (when, where, why) aren’t omitted even if they have their subjects.
- We can’t remember the year when we got married.
- We can’t remember the year we got married. ❌
- I have a secret place where we can hide.
- I have a secret place we can hide. ❌
- This is the reason why you are poor.
- This is the reason you are poor. ❌
5. Don’t use ‘which‘ to give essential information.
If the information the relative clause gives about the noun it modifies is essential, meaning it’s helping the readers identify the noun, avoid using ‘which‘. Use ‘that‘ instead.
- I still have the letter which you gave me on my 15th birthday. (incorrect)
- I still have the letter that you gave me on my 15th birthday. (correct)
- The movie which we watched last week at Anuj’s place was refreshing. (incorrect)
- The movie that we watched last week at Anuj’s place was refreshing. (correct)
6. When a dependent clause starting with when, where, and why does not come after a noun, it does not function as an adjective, it usually functions as a noun.
None of us knows where he lives.
Here, the dependent clause ‘where he lives‘ works as a noun. Here, the word ‘where’ does not work as a relative pronoun, it works as a subordinating conjunction. It does not refer to any noun; it works as an adverb in the noun clause.
Why he left such a good job is a mystery to me.
In this sentence, the dependent clause ‘why he left such a good job‘ is a noun clause, working as the subject of the sentence. The conjunction ‘why’ does not refer to a noun in the sentence.
I was so excited when I heard the news of his engagement.
Here, the word ‘when‘ introduces an adverb clause. The dependent clause modifies the adjective ‘excited’ and works as an adverb.
7. Relative pronouns ‘when‘, ‘where‘, and ‘why‘ are often called relative adverbs as they function as an adverb too.
The relative pronouns (why, when, where), apart from referring to a noun and working as a pronoun, function as an adverb in the relative clause.
These words functioning as an adverb in the relative clause, even after referring to a noun and working as a pronoun, is the reason why some grammarians don’t consider them relative pronouns and call them relative adverbs.
Tell me the reason why you have come here.
The word ‘why’ refers to the noun ‘reason’ and works as a pronoun/conjunction. Also, it refers to the reason for the action in the dependent clause in a way, and that’s why some grammarians call it a relative adverb.
It (why) is a replacement for what we can call a more formal structure, which has become obsolete in the modern era and sounds strange to the current generation.
Tell me the reason for which you have come here.
The prepositional phrase, in this example, clearly modifies the verb (come) of the dependent clause and works as an adverb. When it is replaced with a relative pronoun/adverb, it is believed to be doing the same thing.
- I can’t forget the day when you slapped me in front of everyone.
- I can’t forget the day on which you slapped me in front of everyone.
- I have a flat where we can party.
- I have a flat in which we can party.
What is a relative pronoun?
A relative pronoun comes at the beginning of a relative pronoun and sits next to a noun it refers to. The relative clause it is a part of gives information about the noun the relative pronoun refers to and works as an adjective.
What are the 5 basic relative pronouns?
The 5 most common relative pronouns are who, which, whom, that, and whose. Apart from these, when, where, and why are some other relative pronouns in English.
How do you use relative pronouns in a sentence?
Relative pronouns come at the beginning of a relative clause, also known as an adjective clause, and refer and sit next to the noun the relative clause modifies.
1. People who meditate daily live a better life.
2. The cake that you baked me the other day was delicious.
3. New Delhi, which is the capital of India, has great colleges.
4. He is the man whose bike they have sold you.
Now, we know everything about relative pronouns. Feel free to share your question, doubt, or feedback in the comment section, and also, share the post with the people that need it.
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