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.
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).
“Which” is only used with things.
“Who” can only be used with people.
“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 use of “whose” indicates possession, both for people and things.
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.
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.
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.
|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.)|