Caleb S.
Caleb S.

Relative Pronouns: Definition, Examples & Worksheet

15 min read

Published on: Jun 28, 2024

Last updated on: Jul 4, 2024

relative pronouns

You're talking about your friend who loves books. You might say, "This is the friend who reads all day." 

In this sentence, "who" is a relative pronoun. It helps connect the description of your friend (who reads all day) back to the main idea (your friend).

So, a relative pronoun is like a bridge that links two parts of a sentence together. It helps give more information about someone or something without starting a whole new sentence. 

In this blog, we will explore what relative pronouns are, some examples, and how to use them correctly in your writing. 

By the end of this blog, you'll be spotting relative pronouns everywhere!

Let's get started!

What are Relative Pronouns?

A relative pronoun is a pronoun that introduces a dependent (or relative) clause, linking it to an independent clause. It helps provide more information or details about a noun or pronoun mentioned earlier in the sentence.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, 

“Relative pronouns are words (as who, which, that) that introduce a clause modifying an antecedent”

In simpler terms, all relative pronouns act like connectors in sentences. They link extra details or descriptions back to the person, place, thing, or idea you're talking about. These special words include "who," "whom," "whose," "which," and "that." 

Relative Pronouns Examples

Understanding relative pronouns is easier with examples. Here are some common relative pronouns list and how they are used in sentences:

Types of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns can be classified into different types based on their grammatical function and usage in sentences:

Subjective Relative Pronouns 

These relative pronouns act as the subject of the dependent clause. They introduce clauses that describe or provide information about the subject of the main clause.

  • who: Refers to people.
  • which: Refers to things or animals.
  • that: Refers to people, things, or animals. It can be used for restrictive clauses (essential information that cannot be omitted).

Examples: 

  • The person who called last night left a message.
  • I found the book which I lost yesterday.
  • This is the car that I want to buy.

Subjective relative pronouns help clarify who or what is performing the action in the dependent clause.

Objective Relative Pronouns

These relative pronouns function as the object of the verb or preposition in the dependent clause. They introduce clauses that provide more information about the object of the main clause.

  • whom: Refers to people (object form of "who").
  • which: Refers to things or animals.
  • that: Refers to people, things, or animals. It can be used for both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses (non-essential information that can be omitted).

Examples:

  • The person whom I met yesterday is my neighbor.
  • He found the pen which he had lost.
  • This is the book that I borrowed from the library.

Objective relative pronouns help clarify who or what is receiving the action in the dependent clause.

Possessive Relative Pronoun

This relative pronoun indicates possession or ownership. It introduces clauses that indicate the possession relationship between the noun in the main clause and the noun in the dependent clause.

  • whose: Used for people, things, or animals.

Example: The man whose car was stolen reported it to the police.

The possessive relative pronoun "whose" indicates that something belongs to or is associated with the person or thing mentioned.

Compound Relative Pronouns 

These relative pronouns are formed by adding "-ever" to the base relative pronoun. They are used to emphasize or give a sense of whatever person or thing is being referred to. 

  • whoever: Refers to any person who.
  • whichever: Refers to anything or option that.
  • whatever: Refers to anything or action that.

Examples:

  • Whoever finishes first can leave early.
  • You can choose whichever movie you like.
  • She can eat whatever she wants for dinner.

Compound relative pronouns can function similarly to the base relative pronoun but with added emphasis or inclusiveness.

How to Use Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns play a crucial role in connecting dependent clauses to main clauses in sentences. 

Here are the key guidelines for using relative pronouns effectively:

1. Identify the Antecedent: 

Before using a relative pronoun, identify the noun or pronoun in the main clause that the relative pronoun will refer back to. This noun or pronoun is called the antecedent.

2. Choose the Correct Relative Pronoun: 

Select the appropriate relative pronoun based on the role it will play in the dependent clause (subject, object, possessive) and the noun or pronoun it refers to (person, thing, animal).

3. Introduce Additional Information: 

Use the relative pronoun to introduce additional information or details about the antecedent. This helps clarify relationships and provides more context within the sentence.

4. Maintain Sentence Clarity: 

Ensure that the relative clause (the clause introduced by the relative pronoun) provides essential information that is relevant to understanding the main clause. 

Use commas appropriately when the relative clause is non-restrictive (additional, non-essential information) but omit commas for restrictive clauses (essential information).

5. Examples:

    • Restrictive Clause (No comma): The car that I bought last week is red.
    • Non-Restrictive Clause (Comma): My brother, who lives in London, is visiting next month.

Rules of Using Relative Pronouns 

Relative pronouns are essential for connecting clauses and providing additional information. Here’s a guide to some common rules and distinctions:

Which vs. That 

Use "which" for non-restrictive clauses, and "that" for restrictive clauses.

  • Restrictive Clauses (essential information): Use "that" to introduce clauses that are necessary to the meaning of the sentence.
    • Example: The book that you gave me is amazing. (The information is essential to identify the book.)
  • Non-Restrictive Clauses (additional information): Use "which" to introduce clauses that add extra information but are not essential to the sentence’s meaning. These clauses are usually set off by commas.
    • Example: The book, which you gave me, is amazing. (The information is extra and can be omitted.)

Who vs. Whom

Use "who" as the subject of the clause and "whom" as the object.

  • Who: Use "who" for subjects in the relative clause.
    • Example: The person who called you is my friend.
  • Whom: Use "whom" for objects in the relative clause, though it is often used in formal or written English.
    • Example: The person whom you met yesterday is a lawyer.
  • In informal speech, "whom" is often replaced with "who."

Who vs. That

Use "who" for people and "that" for things or animals.

  • Who: Use "who" to refer to people.
    • Example: The teacher who taught me math is retiring.
  • That: Use "that" for things, animals, and sometimes people, especially in restrictive clauses.
    • Example: The dog that barks all night is annoying.

Avoid Common Mistakes When Using Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns can be tricky to use correctly. That’s why we have listed some common mistakes to avoid:

Mistake#1: Using "which" instead of "that" in restrictive clauses

  • Incorrect: The car, which I bought last week, is fast.
  • Correct: The car that I bought last week is fast.

Explanation: "Which" should be used for non-restrictive (additional) clauses, while "that" is used for restrictive (essential) clauses.

Mistake#2: Misusing "who" and "whom"

  • Incorrect: The person who I spoke to him is my friend.
  • Correct: The person whom I spoke to is my friend.

Explanation: "Who" is used as the subject, and "whom" is used as the object of a verb or preposition.

Mistake#3: Incorrect placement of commas:

  • Incorrect: My brother who lives in New York is visiting.
  • Correct: My brother, who lives in New York, is visiting.

Explanation: Commas should be used to set off non-restrictive clauses (those providing additional, non-essential information).

Mistake#4: Using possessive pronouns incorrectly:

  • Incorrect: The boy who its toy was lost is crying.
  • Correct: The boy whose toy was lost is crying.

Explanation: "Whose" is the possessive form of "who" and indicates ownership.

Mistake#5: Overusing relative pronouns:

  • Incorrect: The book which I borrowed from the library which was interesting.
  • Correct: The book that I borrowed from the library was interesting.

Explanation: Avoid repeating relative pronouns unnecessarily; use them only when introducing a new clause or idea.

Relative vs. Interrogative Pronouns

Understanding the distinction between relative and interrogative pronouns helps in using them correctly in both writing and conversation.

Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns are used to introduce dependent clauses within sentences and connect them to main clauses. They relate to a noun or pronoun mentioned earlier and provide additional information about it.

  • Examples: who, whom, whose, which, that

Usage in Sentences:

  • "The woman who lives next door is a doctor." 

(The relative pronoun "who" introduces the clause "who lives next door," providing more information about "the woman.")

Interrogative Pronouns

Interrogative pronouns are used to ask questions and seek information about people, things, or concepts. They are not used within clauses to connect them to main clauses.

  • Examples: who, whom, whose, which, what

Usage in Questions:

  • " Who is the person standing over there?" 

(The interrogative pronoun "who" asks for information about the person standing.)

Relative Pronouns Worksheet

Here are some relative pronouns exercises for your practice:

1. Identify the Relative Pronoun:

Read the following sentences and identify the relative pronoun in each:

  • "The cat that is sleeping on the chair is mine."
  • "She is the girl who won the competition."
  • "This is the book that I borrowed from the library."
  • "He is the teacher whom we met yesterday."
  • "The cake that you baked is delicious."

2. Complete the Sentence:

Fill in the blank with the appropriate relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, which, that):

  • "The boy __ I met yesterday is my friend."
  • "This is the house __ garden is very beautiful."
  • "She found a coin __ was buried in the sand."
  • "The girl __ I invited to my birthday party is coming."
  • "He can choose __ toy he wants."

3. Choose the Correct Pronoun:

Select the correct relative pronoun to complete the sentence:

  • "She is the person who always helps others."
  • "This is the ball that we play with every day."
  • "They are the children whose parents are teachers."
  • "I will eat whatever you cook for dinner."
  • "He is the student whom everyone likes."


Answer Key:

Exercise 1:

  • that 
  • who 
  • that 
  • whom 
  • that 

Exercise 2:

  • who 
  • whose 
  • which 
  • whom 
  • whatever 

Exercise 3:

  • who 
  • that 
  • whose 
  • whatever 
  • whom

In conclusion, understanding relative pronouns is key to enhancing clarity and coherence in writing. 

By mastering the use of relative pronouns, you can effectively connect clauses, provide additional details, and structure sentences more effectively.

To further enhance your writing precision and efficiency, consider using our Grammar Checker tool. It helps you identify and correct grammar, punctuation, and syntax errors, ensuring your writing is polished and professional.

And if you are looking for an AI essay writer - free no signup, check out MyEssayWriter.ai today!

Continue Learning

If you want to learn more about academic writing, grammar, and related concepts, check out these blogs.

Grammar


Writing


Citation

Dangling Modifiers

Essay Writing

APA format

Homophones

Paraphrasing

MLA format

Infinitives

Thesis Statement

Chicago Style

Analogy

Paragraph

Harvard Style

Parts of Speech

Summary

IEEE Citation

Articles in Grammar

Plagiarism

Oxford Referencing

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

What are 7 relative pronouns?

The 7 relative pronouns commonly used in English are:

  1. who
  2. whom
  3. whose
  4. which
  5. that
  6. whoever
  7. whichever

What happens when you leave out the relative pronoun?

When you leave out the relative pronoun in restrictive clauses (without commas) where it functions as the object, the sentence remains clear:

  • "Please, it’s the least [that] I can do."

In non-restrictive clauses or when the relative pronoun serves as the subject, it's necessary to include it:

  • "You’re not the first person who has pointed that out to me."

List down some relative pronouns for ks2

  • The student who won the race received a medal.
  • She is the teacher whom we admire the most.
  • The boy whose bag was lost found it in the lost and found.
  • The book which I borrowed from the library is very interesting.
Caleb S.

WRITTEN BY

Caleb S. (Mass Literature and Linguistics)

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at MyEssayWriter.ai, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

Caleb S. is an accomplished author with over five years of experience and a Master's degree from Oxford University. He excels in various writing forms, including articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As a valued author at MyEssayWriter.ai, Caleb assists students and professionals by providing practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style enhancement.

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