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    Learn Courses Intermediate level Relative and indefinite pronouns Relative pronouns

"The woman THAT is wearing red works at the school WHERE I used to go". These relative pronouns help us refer to a person or thing that was already mentioned.Continue the lesson below.

We use relative pronouns to refer to a noun (person or thing) that was mentioned earlier in the sentence and to which we want to add more information or modify. Relative pronouns can refer to something or someone in either singular or plural. Some relative pronouns can be used only with people, others only with things and some can be used with both. Below is a list of the relative pronouns and their uses.

Pronoun Person Thing
  that x x
  which x
  who x
  whom x
  whose x x

Grammatical Rules

Relative pronouns are used in place of a noun. The noun is generally found earlier in the sentence.


“That” is the relative pronoun most frequently used in spoken English, as it can be used for both people and things. It is used in place of “which”, “who” or “whom” in defining relative clauses (see below).


  This is the book that won the Pulitzer prize last year.
  My friend is the girl that was on the cover of Vogue last month.
  This is the restaurant that received the excellent reviews in the newspaper.


Which” is only used with things.


  My new job, which I only started last week, is already very stressful.
  The house which we lived in when we were children burnt down last week.


Who” can only be used with people.


  My sister, who just moved in with me, is looking for a job.
  I never met someone who didn’t like music.


Whom” is used to refer to the indirect object of the verb, but is is not often used in spoken English. “Who” is frequently used in place of “whom”.


  The woman with whom I was talking to was my cousin.
  This is Peter, whom I met at the party last week.


The use of “whose” indicates possession, both for people and things.


  That is the girl whose parents got divorced last year.
  Paul, whose wife just had a baby, will not be at work for a few weeks.

When, Where and Why

These relative adverbs are sometimes used instead of a relative pronoun to make the sentence easier to understand. These adverbs refer to time expressions, locations or reasons.


  The university where I teach is an excellent school.
  Can you tell me when is the best time to call?
Note: The relative pronoun is not necessary when it is used to refer to the object of the sentence.


  The exam [that] I took this morning won’t be corrected and returned until next week.
  The woman [who] I’m dating is a teacher.

Relative Clauses

Relative pronouns are used to join two or more clauses and in doing so, form what are known as “relative clauses”. There are two types of relative clauses: those which add additional information (non-defining relative clauses) and those which modify or define the subject of the sentence (defining relative clauses).

Non-defining Relative Clauses

These clauses add additional information to the sentence. Commas are used to separate the non-defining relative clause from the rest of the sentence. “That” may not be used in place of “who” or “which” in this type of clause.


  My friend Tony, who is an excellent writer, is helping me with my English paper.
  The report, which my boss asked me to write last week, still isn’t finished.

Defining Relative Clauses

Defining relative clauses identify and define the person or thing to which we are referring. Commas are not used with this type of clause.


  I wrote the report that you asked for.
  She never meet the man who saved her father’s life.
Note: The meaning of the sentence changes depending on which type of relative clause is used.


  The employees who worked long hours completed their projects on time.(Note: The use of the defining relative clause here indicates that only those employees who worked long hours completed their projects on time.)
  The employees, who worked long hours, completed their projects on time.(Note: The use of the non-defining relative clause here indicates that all employees worked long hours.)
Previous lesson Indefinite Pronouns
Relative Pronouns Listen to Lesson