Relative Pronoun

You probably know that pronouns are the words that replace a noun or somewhat do the same thing that a noun does. Have you ever heard about -WH questions like Who, What, When, How, Where, etc? Generally, they are used for interrogative sentences that ask questions. But these WH words are also used to refer to some relation with the subject or also used to join two sentences then they are called a relative pronoun. Not only the -WH words, but that can also be used as a relative pronoun as it is used to introduce a relative clause. A relative clause provides some extra information about the noun or pronoun.

For example,

  1. The person who called me last night is my best friend.
  2. The game that he loves the most is volleyball.
  3. The pen by which you are writing is mine.
  4. Rahul is my classmate whom I introduced you to.
  5. That place is haunted where you are going.
  6. She remembered that time when they met.

In the above examples, who, that, which, whom, where, and when are relative pronouns that reflect the relations between clauses. Now, do you have an overview of what a relative pronoun is? Let's explore and understand the use of relative pronouns with some examples.

Definition of Relative Pronoun

In English Grammar, a relative pronoun is defined as a pronoun that is used to introduce relative clauses that describe noun or other pronoun. A relative pronoun relates to the word that its relative clause modifies. Relative clauses are those that are connected to the main clause of the sentence by a word such as who, whom, which, that, when, or whose, and these words that are connecting the relative clause to the main clause are known as relative pronouns. Relative clauses are also referred to as adjective clauses, as these clauses in some way describe the subject.

You will understand it more easily if you look at some examples: 

  1. This is the place where they met for the first time.
  2. Samar is the girl whom I was talking about.

Can you identify relative pronouns in these sentences? Here, where and whom are the words that bring two clauses together. In the first sentence, this is the place where one clause combined with another clause is the place where they met for the first time. Again in the second sentence, samar is the girl about whom the subject is talking about is combined by whom.

Examples of Relative Pronouns
Relative PronounsUsed Examples
WhenTo refer timeShe marked the day in the calendar when they met first.
WhereTo refer placeThe cafe, where we had our dinner date, is now closed.
WhoTo refer people or personThe cyclist who won the race is hardworking.
Whoseshows possession or relationshipThe police are looking for the bus whose driver was found guilty.
WhichFor things and animals (non-defining clause) Describing more about them.The rain, which was quite heavy, made it hard to walk.
whomTo refers to the objectThis is Soham, whom you met at our farm yesterday.
ThatFor things and animals (non-defining clause) just to identify the object or animal.This is the house that Rohan built.

Defining Relative Clauses

A defining relative clause is a sentence that gives essential information about the noun. It is also known as a restrictive clause. It is important that it conveys the intended meaning of the sentence. A defining clause does not require any additional punctuation. For example,

I like people who correct me.

This is the cat that was killed by a bike.

These are the people that have been affected.

 As you can see the Bold clauses contain critical information about the noun. So, if you remove the clause from the sentences, the meaning of the sentence is changed.

Non-Defining Relative Clauses

A non-defining relative clause is a sentence that adds some extra information that is not so essential to the sentence. If they are removed the sentence would convey basically the same information, without changing its meaning. So, non-defining clauses are set apart from the main sentence by commas, which indicate their less importance in the sentence. For example,
The new flower pot, which I bought yesterday, is getting new leaves.

The creation, which I am excited about, is worth over a billion.
My friend, who lives in Chennai, bought a new car.
Satya, who I usually play with, just got relocated to a new city.

In the above examples, if we remove the non-defining clause written in bold then there are no changes in the meaning of the sentence. 

Common Error using Relative Pronoun

That and Which
‘That’ is used to describe objects and non-human things. ‘That’ is used to introduce essential information and requires no additional punctuation or comma, i.e in a defining relative clause. While ‘Which’ is used to introduce non-essential information, commonly separated by commas i.e a non-defining clause. For example,

The telephone, which was ringing, was in the living room.

The camel, which is very thirsty, is looking for some water.

The cow that is very sick needs to see the vet today.

Here are some chicken nuggets that everyone can eat.

Who and whom

 Who and Whom both refer to people. ‘Who is used as a subject while ‘Whom’ is used as an object. Now, to know which is a better fit for the sentences, substitute the word ‘They’ or ‘Them’ and see which makes more sense in a sentence. For convenience, you can remember it in this way that ‘Whom and Them’ both end with the letter ‘M’ and are both only used as objects. For example,
The company hired an intern who spoke Japanese.

Aman was the one whom Satyam gave the keys.

Whose

‘Whose’ is used to introduce a relative clause that describes someone or something’s possession. The word whose is both a possessive pronoun and a relative pronoun. For example,

I found the person whose car crashed yesterday. 

This is the boy whose dog bit my friend last night.

Here, whose car crashed yesterday and whose dog bit my friend last night modifies the word person. Whose introduces a clause that describes a car and dog that belongs to the person and the boy respectively.

Examples of Relative Pronouns in sentences

  1. I also like the book which you are reading.
  2. He bought the house which was newly constructed.
  3. The bicycle that you are riding is gifted by her mom.
  4. The book that was in my bag was stolen.
  5. The girl who wrote this book is my sister.
  6. Rohan is the boy who has passed the exam.
  7. Jack has invited a person whom he met yesterday.
  8. He is my brother whom you are teasing.
  9. Teacher asked the students whose book is this?
  10. Only that boy will go on a picnic whose homework is complete.
  11. Rina forgot her keys where she stayed yesterday night.
  12. Jack and Jenny have gone to the place where they met for the first time.
  13. Call me when you leave the office.
  14. I will be there when you need me.
  15. Father called me when I was outside.

Also Read

PronounPersonal Pronoun
Reflexive PronounPossessive Pronoun
NounAdjective
AdverbPreposition
VerbConjunction
Relative Pronoun: FAQs

Answer: A relative pronoun is defined as a pronoun that is used to introduce relative clauses that describe nouns or other pronouns. A relative pronoun relates to the word that its relative clause modifies.

Answer: ‘Whose’ is used to introduce a relative clause that describes someone or something’s possession. The word whose is both a possessive pronoun and a relative pronoun. For example, I found the person whose car crashed yesterday.

Answer: ‘That’ is used to describe objects and non-human things. ‘That’ is used to introduce essential information and requires no additional punctuation or comma, i.e in a defining relative clause. While ‘Which’ is used to introduce non-essential information, commonly separated by commas i.e a non-defining clause. For example, The telephone, which was ringing, was in the living room. The cow that is very sick needs to see the vet today.

Answer: A defining relative clause is a sentence that gives essential information about the noun. It is also known as a restrictive clause.

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