Relative Pronouns: Definition, Examples and Exercise

Relative pronouns help us link different parts of our sentences smoothly, like puzzle pieces fitting perfectly together. Let’s explore everything about relative pronouns, and learn how they can make your English sentences shine.

What Are Relative Pronouns?  

Suppose you have two sentences that are kind of related, like “The book is on the table. The book is red.” Instead of repeating “the book” twice, you can use relative pronouns to combine these sentences into one: “The book that is on the table is red.” See how the relative pronoun “that” connects the two parts?

Relative Pronoun Definition

Relative pronouns are the words that play a crucial role in connecting different parts of a sentence, especially when you want to add more information or details. These pronouns act like bridges, helping us smoothly tie together two related ideas within a single sentence. By using relative pronouns, you can avoid repeating nouns and create sentences that are more interesting and complex.

List of Relative Pronouns

Here is the list of relative pronouns…

  1. Who: Used to refer to people. It’s the subject of the verb in the relative clause.
  2. Whom: Also used to refer to people, but it’s the object of the verb in the relative clause.
  3. Whose: Shows possession and is used to refer to both people and things.
  4. Which: Used to refer to things, animals, or groups of people, and it adds extra information.
  5. That: Used to refer to both people and things
Relative PronounExample
WhoThe woman who lives next door is friendly.
WhomThe man whom I met yesterday is a doctor.
WhoseThe cat whose tail is fluffy is my pet.
WhichThe car which is parked outside belongs to my sister.
ThatThe book that I’m reading is really interesting.

Relative Pronoun Examples and Usage

  1. Who: Think of “who” as your storyteller when talking about people. It introduces someone who is actively involved in the action or narrative.

Examples:

  • The teacher who inspired us won the award.
  • The musician who performed last night was incredible.
  • The doctor who treated my sister is very experienced.
  • The friend who helped me move is very kind.
  • The chef who prepared the meal is highly skilled.
  1. Whom: “Whom” is like a spotlight on the receiver. Use it when someone is the target of an action in the sentence.

Examples:

  • The artist whom we admire is giving a presentation.
  • The athlete whom the coach praised won the race.
  • The author whom I interviewed shared fascinating insights.
  • The neighbor whom we often meet is very friendly.
  • The student whom I tutored improved significantly.
  1. Whose: “Whose” uncovers ownership. It answers the question “to whom does it belong?”

Examples:

  • The child whose drawing won first place is talented.
  • The author whose novels I enjoy just released a new book.
  • The team whose efforts resulted in success is celebrating.
  • The company whose products are innovative is gaining recognition.
  1. Which: “Which” serves as an enhancer. It provides extra information about an object or concept without specifying one in particular.

Examples:

  • The movie which we watched yesterday was a comedy.
  • The laptop which I’m using is quite fast.
  • The restaurant which we visited last week had excellent service.
  • The project which I’m working on is quite challenging.
  1. That: “That” is like your trusty all-rounder. It’s suitable for both people and things and is commonly used in various contexts.

Examples:

  • The dog that lives next door is very playful.
  • The dress that she wore to the party was elegant.
  • The car that I saw at the dealership was affordable.
  • The park that we visited yesterday was beautiful.
  • The car that I drive is fuel-efficient.

Connecting Clauses: Bringing it All Together

Think of a story as a chain of events. Sometimes, you want to add extra details to your story to make it more interesting. Relative pronouns come to the rescue here! They help connect different parts of your story by creating what we call “relative clauses.”

Imagine you have two pieces of information that belong together. You could write them as two separate sentences, but that might sound a bit choppy. Instead, you can use a relative pronoun to tie them together neatly.

For instance, let’s say you have these two sentences:

  • The city is famous.
  • The city has historic landmarks.

These two sentences are related, but writing them separately doesn’t capture the connection between the city being famous and having historic landmarks. Let’s use a relative pronoun to bring these ideas together:

Combined Sentence using a Relative Pronoun:

  • The city that is famous has historic landmarks.

In this combined sentence, the relative pronoun “that” serves as the bridge that connects the information. It smoothly links the fact that the city is famous with the details about its historic landmarks.

By using a relative pronoun, you create a single sentence that provides both pieces of information, making your writing more concise and cohesive.

Referring to People: Who vs. Whom

When you want to talk about individuals or people, “who” and “whom” are your go-to relative pronouns. They help you introduce or refer to someone in your sentences. Think of them as the signposts that guide your readers to the person you’re talking about.

  • Who: Use “who” when the person you’re referring to is the one performing an action in the sentence. It’s like shining a spotlight on the active person.

Example: The teacher who helped me with math is very patient.

Here, “who” points out the teacher as the one who actively helped with math.

  • Whom: “Whom” is a bit like “who,” but it’s used when the person is on the receiving end of an action. It’s like giving attention to the person who’s affected.

Example: The artist whom I admire is giving a live demonstration.

In this case, “whom” directs attention to the artist who is being admired, rather than the action itself.

Remember, “who” is for the one doing the action, and “whom” is for the one receiving the action. These relative pronouns help you talk about people in different roles within your sentences, adding depth and clarity to your communication.

  • The woman who is singing has a beautiful voice. (The woman is the one doing the action.)
  • The doctor whom I visited is very friendly. (I visited the doctor.)

Referring to Things: Which vs. That

When you’re talking about objects, things, animals, or even groups of people, “which” and “that” step in to help you provide extra information. They’re like treasure chests of details that enhance your sentences. Let’s see how these relative pronouns work:

  • Which: Use “which” to introduce additional information about an object or idea. It’s like adding a bonus description to your sentence.

Example:  The house, which is big, has a garden.

Here, “which” introduces extra information about the house being big without changing the main idea of the sentence.

  • That: “That” is a versatile relative pronoun that can refer to both people and things. It’s commonly used in sentences to provide essential information.

Example: The laptop that I use for work is incredibly efficient.

In this case, “that” indicates which specific laptop is being referred to.

Both “which” and “that” help you give more context to your sentences. “Which” adds a layer of detail, while “that” focuses on essential information.

Showing Possession with “Whose”

Imagine you’re at a gathering, and someone asks, “Whose phone is this?” You’re trying to figure out the owner. In sentences, “whose” plays a similar role—it helps you show possession or ownership. It’s like a spotlight pointing to the person or thing that something belongs to.

  • Whose: When you want to highlight possession, “whose” comes to the rescue. It helps you answer the question “to whom does this belong?”

Example: The boy, whose backpack is on the chair, is my cousin.

Here, “whose” tells us that the backpack belongs to the boy.

  • Whose can also be used for non-living things: Example: The building, whose windows are all broken, needs repairs.

In this case, “whose” emphasizes that the windows belong to the building.

“Whose” acts as a handy tool for expressing possession and connection between people and their belongings or objects.

When to Use Commas

Let’s explore how to use commas effectively with relative pronouns:

Restrictive Clauses (No Commas): These are like crucial puzzle pieces that cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. Use no commas with restrictive clauses, as they contain information that’s necessary to identify the noun they’re modifying.

Example: The book that I borrowed from the library is due tomorrow.

In this sentence, “that I borrowed from the library” is essential information that identifies which book is being referred to. No commas are used.

Non-Restrictive Clauses (Commas): These clauses are like bonus details that can be removed without altering the main point of the sentence. Use commas with non-restrictive clauses to set them apart from the main sentence.

Example: The laptop, which I bought last week, is really fast.

Here, “which I bought last week” is extra information that adds details about the laptop but isn’t necessary to understand which laptop is being talked about. Commas are used to signal that this information can be omitted without changing the main message.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

While relative pronouns are wonderful tools, they can sometimes lead to confusion if not used correctly. Let’s shed light on some common mistakes to steer clear of when working with relative pronouns and clauses:

  1. Choosing the Wrong Pronoun: One frequent error is picking the wrong relative pronoun. Make sure to match the pronoun with the noun it’s referring to, and also ensure it’s used correctly according to the role in the sentence.

Incorrect: The dog who barked at the moon was scared. (Referring to a thing, “dog” should use “that.”)

Correct: The dog that barked at the moon was scared.

  1. Misplacing Commas: Incorrectly placing or omitting commas in relative clauses can lead to misunderstandings. Remember, restrictive clauses don’t use commas, while non-restrictive ones do.

Incorrect: The car, that is red, belongs to my sister. (Non-restrictive clause needs commas.)

Correct: The car that is red belongs to my sister.

  1. Ignoring the Context: Ensure the relative pronoun matches the context of the sentence. Reserve “which” for objects or animals and use “who” or “whom” for people.

Incorrect: The man which is my teacher is very knowledgeable.

Correct: The man who is my teacher is very knowledgeable.

Examples of Relative Pronouns in Context

Explore the following examples of relative pronouns to enhance your understanding.

  1. The girl who is singing has a beautiful voice.
  2. The teacher who inspired me is retiring.
  3. The man whom I met yesterday is my new neighbor.
  4. The artist whom we interviewed is famous.
  5. The car whose color is blue belongs to my sister.
  6. The author whose book I’m reading is a bestseller.
  7. The laptop which I bought recently is very fast.
  8. The restaurant which we visited had delicious food.
  9. The movie that we watched last night was bizarre.

Relative Pronoun Exercise

Choose the appropriate relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, which, that) to complete the below sentences correctly.

  1. The man __________ we interviewed has a unique painting style.
  2. The girl __________ won the competition is my best friend.
  3. The artist __________ work is displayed here is quite famous.
  4. The dog __________ barks loudly lives next door.
  5. The car __________ is parked outside belongs to my uncle.
  6. The student __________ I tutored improved her grades.
  7. The restaurant, __________ we visited last night, had excellent service.
  8. The author __________ book I’m reading is a classic.
  9. The mountain, __________ we hiked, offered breathtaking views.
  10. The movie __________ I watched last night was a comedy.
  11. The scientist __________ discovered the new species is renowned in the field.
  12. The laptop __________ I bought last week is very fast.
  13. The company __________ products are highly rated is launching a new line.
  14. The boy __________ won the race is my cousin.
  15. The team __________ won the championship celebrated with a parade.

Answer Key

  1. whom
  2. who
  3. whose
  4. that
  5. that
  6. whom
  7. which
  8. whose
  9. which
  10. which
  11. who
  12. which
  13. whose
  14. who
  15. that

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