Relative Pronoun: Meaning, Lists, Examples, Rules& Exercises

In this post, we will explore the concept of the relative pronoun with its various functions in sentences. We will also provide you with practical examples and exercises to reinforce your understanding. Let’s explore!

This post includes:

  • What is a relative pronoun?
  • List of Relative Pronouns
  • Usage of relative pronouns
  • Examples of relative pronouns
  • Role of relative pronouns in Sentences
  • Functions of Relative Pronouns
  • Rules for relative pronouns
  • Exercises to practice relative pronouns
  • FAQs

What is a relative pronoun?

A relative pronoun is a word that helps us connect two different ideas or clauses in a sentence. It acts as a link between a main clause (a complete sentence) and a subordinate clause (a sentence that adds extra information).

Think of a relative pronoun as a bridge that joins two parts of a sentence together. It allows us to provide more details or describe a person, thing, or idea without having to start a whole new sentence.

For example:

“The book that I borrowed from the library is excellent.”

In this sentence, the relative pronoun “that” connects the main clause (“The book is excellent”) with the subordinate clause (“I borrowed it from the library”). It helps us understand which book is being referred to.

List of Relative Pronouns

  • Who: Refers to people.

Example: The person who called me is my teacher.

  • Whom: Refers to people (object form).

Example: The student whom I helped is my friend.

  • Whose: Indicates possession.

Example: The car whose tires are flat needs to be repaired.

  • Which: Refers to things and animals.

Example: The book which is on the table is mine.

  • That: Refers to people, things, and animals.

Example: The dog that barks loudly is annoying.

Usage of relative pronouns with examples

Relative pronouns help us provide more information or describe a person, thing, or idea without starting a new sentence. Let’s look at the usage of relative pronouns with examples:

#1. Who:

  • “Who” is used to refer to people.
  • It is used to introduce a clause that provides additional information about a person.

Example: “The woman who is sitting next to me is my sister.”

In this sentence, “who” introduces the clause “is sitting next to me,” which describes the woman. It helps us identify which woman is being referred to.

#2. Whom:

  • “Whom” is used as a relative pronoun when referring to the object of a verb or preposition.
  • It is used when the person being referred to is receiving the action.
  • Think of “whom” as replacing the object of the verb or preposition.

Example 1: “The woman whom I met at the party is a famous actress.”

In this sentence, “whom” refers to the woman who received the action of being met. She is the object of the verb “met.”

Example 2: “To whom did you give the book?”

Here, “whom” refers to the person who received the action of giving. They are the object of the preposition “to.”

#3. Which:

  • “Which” is used to refer to things or animals.
  • It is used to introduce a clause that provides additional information about a thing or animal.

Example: “The book which is on the shelf is mine.”

Here, “which” introduces the clause “is on the shelf,” providing additional information about the book. It helps us identify which book is being referred to.

#4. That:

  • “That” can refer to people, things, or animals.
  • It is used to introduce a clause that provides essential information about a noun.
  • “That” is often used in restrictive clauses, which means the information is necessary for understanding the sentence.

Example: “The car that is parked outside belongs to my neighbor.”

In this sentence, “that” introduces the clause “is parked outside,” which is essential to identify the car belonging to the neighbor.

#5. Whose:

  • “Whose” indicates possession and is used to describe ownership.
  • It is used to introduce a clause that shows possession or relationship.

Example: “The dog whose tail is wagging is happy.”

Here, “whose” introduces the clause “tail is wagging,” showing the possession or relationship between the dog and its tail.

Examples of relative pronouns

Here are some examples for each relative pronoun with explanations:

1. Who:

a) The girl who is singing has a beautiful voice.

In this example, “who” introduces the relative clause “is singing,” providing additional information about the girl. It helps us identify which girl is being referred to.

b) The man who won the competition is my brother.

“Who” introduces the relative clause “won the competition,” specifying the man who achieved the victory. It helps us identify which man is being referred to.

c) The doctor who treated me was very kind.

In this sentence, “who” introduces the relative clause “treated me,” indicating the doctor who provided medical care. It helps us identify which doctor is being referred to.

d) I have a friend who loves to read books.

“Who” introduces the relative clause “loves to read books,” providing additional information about the friend’s interest. It helps us identify which friend is being referred to.

e) The teacher who gave us the assignment is strict.

In this example, “who” introduces the relative clause “gave us the assignment,” indicating the teacher who assigned the task. It helps us identify which teacher is being referred to.

2. Whom:

a) The person whom I met yesterday is a famous actor.

In this sentence, “whom” introduces the relative clause “I met yesterday,” indicating the person who was encountered. It helps us identify which person is being referred to.

b) Sheila, whom I admire, is an incredible artist.

“Whom” introduces the relative clause “I admire,” describing Sheila. It helps us identify which person is being admired.

c) The student whom the teacher praised got the highest grade.

In this example, “whom” introduces the relative clause “the teacher praised,” indicating the student who received compliments. It helps us identify which student is being referred to.

d) The woman whom I saw at the store was buying groceries.

“Whom” introduces the relative clause “I saw at the store,” indicating the woman who was observed. It helps us identify which woman is being referred to.

e) I have a neighbor whom I often chat with in the evenings.

In this sentence, “whom” introduces the relative clause “I often chat with in the evenings,” describing the neighbor. It helps us identify which neighbor is being referred to.

3. Whose:

a) The artist whose painting won the award is very talented.

“Whose” introduces the relative clause “painting won the award,” indicating the artist’s possession. It helps us identify which artist is being referred to.

b) The company whose products I use is known for quality.

In this example, “whose” introduces the relative clause “products I use,” indicating the company’s possession. It helps us identify which company is being referred to.

c) The girl whose brother is a doctor wants to become a nurse.

“Whose” introduces the relative clause “brother is a doctor,” indicating the girl’s relationship. It helps us identify which girl is being referred to.

d) I met a person whose story inspired me.

In this sentence, “whose” introduces the relative clause “story inspired me,” indicating the person’s possession. It helps us identify which person is being referred to.

e) The dog whose tail wags excitedly is very friendly.

“Whose” introduces the relative clause “tail wags excitedly,” indicating the dog’s possession. It helps us identify which dog is being referred to.

4. Which:

a) The car which is parked outside is mine.

“Which” introduces the relative clause “is parked outside,” providing additional information about the car. It helps us identify which car is being referred to.

b) The laptop, which was expensive, stopped working suddenly.

In this example, “which” introduces the relative clause “was expensive,” providing additional information about the laptop. It helps us identify which laptop is being referred to.

c) The book which I borrowed from the library is fascinating.

“Which” introduces the relative clause “I borrowed from the library,” indicating the book’s source. It helps us identify which book is being referred to.

d) The restaurant, which serves delicious food, is always crowded.

In this sentence, “which” introduces the relative clause “serves delicious food,” providing additional information about the restaurant. It helps us identify which restaurant is being referred to.

e) The movie, which I watched last night, was very entertaining.

“Which” introduces the relative clause “I watched last night,” indicating the movie’s timeframe. It helps us identify which movie is being referred to.

5. That:

a) The dog that barks loudly is annoying.

In this example, “that” introduces the relative clause “barks loudly,” providing additional information about the dog. It helps us identify which dog is being referred to.

b) The house that I visited yesterday is beautiful.

“That” introduces the relative clause “I visited yesterday,” indicating the house that was visited. It helps us identify which house is being referred to.

c) The phone that I bought is brand new.

In this sentence, “that” introduces the relative clause “I bought,” indicating the phone that was purchased. It helps us identify which phone is being referred to.

d) The book that you recommended is fantastic.

“That” introduces the relative clause “you recommended,” indicating the book that was suggested. It helps us identify which book is being referred to.

e) The shirt that I am wearing is my favorite.

In this example, “that” introduces the relative clause “I am wearing,” indicating the shirt being worn. It helps us identify which shirt is being referred to.

Role of relative pronouns in Sentences

Here are a few key roles of relative pronouns:

1. Introducing a Subordinate Clause:

Relative pronouns introduce a subordinate clause, which adds extra information to the main sentence.

Example: “The dog that is sitting in the park is friendly.” Here, “that” introduces the subordinate clause “is sitting in the park” to describe which dog we’re referring to.

2. Referring to People, Things, or Ideas:

Relative pronouns help us refer to specific people, things, or ideas mentioned earlier in the sentence or context.

Example: “The car which was parked outside is mine.” Here, “which” refers to the car, specifying which car belongs to the speaker.

3. Providing Additional Details:

Relative pronouns allow us to provide more details or descriptions about the noun they refer to.

Example: “The woman who won the competition is my sister.” Here, “who” adds the detail that the woman is the one who won the competition.

4. Avoiding Repetition:

Relative pronouns replace repeated nouns or noun phrases to make sentences less repetitive.

Example: “I have a friend. My friend is a doctor.” can be combined as “I have a friend who is a doctor.” Here, “who” replaces the repeated noun “friend.”

Functions of Relative Pronouns

Here are the functions of relative pronouns used in different cases in a sentence.

1. The subject of a Verb:

  • When a relative pronoun is used as the subject of a verb, it performs the action in the relative clause.
  • It helps us identify the person, thing, or idea that is performing the action.

Example: “The dog who is barking is loud.”

In this sentence, “who” is the relative pronoun functioning as the subject of the verb “is barking.” It refers to the dog and performs the action of barking.

2. Object of a Verb:

  • When a relative pronoun is used as the object of a verb, it receives the action in the relative clause.
  • It helps us identify the person, thing, or idea that is affected by the action.

Example: “The book that I read is interesting.”

In this sentence, “that” is the relative pronoun functioning as the object of the verb “read.” It refers to the book and receives the action of being read.

3. Object of a Preposition:

  • When a relative pronoun is used as the object of a preposition, it comes after the preposition and shows the relationship between the noun and the rest of the sentence.
  • It helps us identify the person, thing, or idea that the preposition is referring to.

Example: “The house in which they live is beautiful.”

In this sentence, “which” is the relative pronoun functioning as the object of the preposition “in.” It refers to the house and shows the location or position of where they live.

4. Possession:

  • When a relative pronoun is used to indicate possession, it shows ownership or a relationship between the noun and the rest of the sentence.
  • It helps us identify the person, thing, or idea that possesses or is connected to something.

Example: “The woman whose car was stolen reported it to the police.”

In this sentence, “whose” is the relative pronoun indicating possession. It shows the relationship between the woman and the car that was stolen.

5. Adjective Clause:

  • When a relative pronoun is used to introduce an adjective clause, it provides additional information or describes the noun in more detail.
  • It helps us provide specific details or descriptions about the person, thing, or idea.

Example: “The student who won the competition received a trophy.”

In this sentence, “who” is the relative pronoun introducing the adjective clause “won the competition.” It provides additional information about the student and specifies the student who achieved the victory.

Rules for relative pronouns

There are some rules to keep in mind when using relative pronouns. Here are the key rules with examples:

1. Agreement in Number and Gender:

The relative pronoun should agree in number and gender with the noun it is referring to.

Example: “The girl who is playing soccer is talented.”

In this sentence, the singular noun “girl” requires the singular relative pronoun “who” to maintain agreement.

2. Use “Who” for People:

Use “who” when referring to people or individuals.

Example: “The man who is speaking is my teacher.”

Here, “who” is used to refer to the man, who is a person.

3. Use “Whom” as an Object:

Use “whom” when the relative pronoun acts as the object of a verb or preposition.

Example: “The person whom I met is my friend.”

In this sentence, “whom” is used as the object of the verb “met.”

4. Use “Which” for Things:

Use “which” when referring to things or non-living objects.

Example: “The book which I borrowed is very interesting.”

Here, “which” is used to refer to the book, which is a thing.

5. Use “That” for People or Things:

“That” can be used to refer to both people and things.

It is often used in restrictive clauses, which provide essential information.

Example: “The car that is parked outside is mine.”

In this sentence, “that” is used to refer to the car, which can be either a person’s possession or a thing.

6. Use “Whose” to Show Possession:

Use “whose” to indicate possession or a relationship between two nouns.

Example: “The girl whose brother is a doctor is studying medicine.”

Here, “whose” shows the relationship between the girl and her brother.

7. Avoid Ambiguity and Misplacement:

  • Ensure that the relative pronoun clearly refers to the intended noun and is placed close to the noun it refers to.

Example: “I have a friend who speaks five languages.”

In this sentence, “who” clearly refers to “friend” and is placed immediately after it, avoiding ambiguity.

Exercises to practice relative pronouns

Exercise 1:

Fill in the blank with the appropriate relative pronoun: who, whom, which, or whose.

  • The girl ___________ won the first prize is my best friend.
  • This is the restaurant ___________ we had dinner last night.
  • The book ___________ I borrowed from the library is very interesting.
  • The doctor ___________ I visited was very friendly.
  • The car ___________ belongs to my brother is parked outside.

Answers:

  • who
  • where
  • that
  • whom
  • that

Exercise 2:

Rewrite the sentence by combining the two sentences using a relative pronoun.

  • Maria is a talented musician. She plays the piano.
  • The house is very old. It has a beautiful garden.
  • John bought a laptop. It is very expensive.
  • The dog is very friendly. Its owner takes good care of it.
  • The movie was amazing. We watched it last night.

Answers:

  • Maria, who plays the piano, is a talented musician.
  • The house, which has a beautiful garden, is very old.
  • John bought a laptop, which is very expensive.
  • The dog, whose owner takes good care of it, is very friendly.
  • The movie that we watched last night was amazing.

Exercise 3:

Choose the correct relative pronoun to complete the sentence.

This is the boy ________ broke the window.

a) which

b) who

c) whom

The artist, ________ paintings are on display, is very talented.

a) which

b) who

c) whose

The book, ________ I read, was very interesting.

a) which

b) who

c) whom

The woman, ________ I met yesterday, is a doctor.

a) which

b) who

c) whose

The car, ________ I bought last week, is red.

a) which

b) who

c) that

Answers:

b) who

c) whose

a) which

b) who

a) which

FAQs

What are relative pronouns?

Relative pronouns are words that connect dependent clauses (relative clauses) to main clauses and refer to a noun or pronoun in the main clause. They include words like “who,” “whom,” “which,” “whose,” and “that.”

When should I use “who” or “whom”?

Use “who” when the relative pronoun is functioning as the subject of the relative clause. Use “whom” when it is functioning as the object of the relative clause.

Can relative pronouns refer to things as well as people?

Yes, relative pronouns can refer to both things and people. “Which” is commonly used for things, while “who” and “whom” are used for people.

Can I omit relative pronouns in a sentence?

Yes, relative pronouns can be omitted in certain cases when the meaning is clear from the context. This is known as the omission of relative pronouns or elliptical relative clauses.

Are there different relative pronouns for different genders?

No, relative pronouns do not have gender-specific forms. They are used regardless of the gender of the noun being referred to.

What is the difference between “that” and “which”?

“That” is used in restrictive clauses that provide essential information, while “which” is used in non-restrictive clauses that provide additional information. “That” is not preceded by a comma, whereas “which” is preceded by a comma.

How do I know which relative pronoun to use in a sentence?

The choice of relative pronoun depends on the role it plays in the relative clause and the type of information being provided. Consider whether it is functioning as a subject or object, and whether it refers to a person or thing.

Can relative pronouns be used in formal writing?

Yes, relative pronouns are commonly used in formal writing to connect ideas and provide additional information. They help create structured and coherent sentences.

Are there any common mistakes to watch out for when using relative pronouns?

One common mistake is using “that” instead of “who” or “whom” when referring to people. Another mistake is failing to use a relative pronoun when it is necessary to connect the relative clause to the main clause.

See also:

Some online resources:

Photo of author
Author
MS
I am a learner like you. I just want to learn about the resources around us and share with you about those resources via this learning platform.