Relative pronouns: who, which, that, whose

The relative pronouns in English are who, which, that and whose. Whom is also used by some people but is considered by many to be too formal.

A relative pronoun introduces a relative clause:

This is the table which I bought.

‘This is the table’ =  the main clause; ‘I bought’ =  the relative clause; ‘which’ =  the relative pronoun joining the two clauses

Relative pronouns
We use who or that when we talk about people.

Who is more formal than that.
This is the man who helped us.
(more formal)
This is the man that helped us.
(less formal)
We cannot use what:
This is the man what helped us.
We use which or that when we talk about things (not people).

Which is more formal than that.
It's the watch which my husband bought me for my birthday. (more formal)
It's the watch that my husband bought me for my birthday. (less formal)
In informal speech, we can omit which and that when the pronoun refers to the object of the sentence. It's the watch my husband bought me for my birthday.
In this sentence, 'the watch' is the object of the verb 'bought' so we don't need to use that or which.
We cannot omit which and that when the pronoun refers to the subject of the sentence. It was the man that sold me the car.
In this sentence, 'the man' is the subject of the verb 'sold' so we need to use that or who.
It was the man sold me the car.
We use whose to show possession. John, whose brother was also a musician, plays over 100 concerts every year.

See also: Relative clauses

test_inter4 Practise this grammar (pre-inter / intermediate): Exercise: relative pronouns – who, which, that, where, whose



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