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Relative Pronouns in English: Usage and Useful Examples

Relative Pronouns in English: Usage and Useful Examples

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Relative pronouns are essential building blocks of English, serving as the links that bind parts of a sentence together. These words, which include “who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” and “that,” help us give more information about a person, thing, or situation without the need to start a new sentence. It’s through relative pronouns that we introduce relative clauses, which can either add essential information to a sentence or provide additional details that are interesting but not absolutely necessary to understand the main point.

Understanding Relative Pronouns

Relative Pronouns in English: Usage and Useful Examples

What is a Relative Pronoun?

A relative pronoun functions as a word that links two clauses into a single complex clause. It is similar in function to a subordinating conjunction. Unlike a conjunction, however, a relative pronoun stands in place of a noun.

Types of Relative Pronouns

The English language has five primary relative pronouns:

  1. who: refers to people and has a subject function.
  2. whom: also refers to people, but it has an object function.
  3. whose: indicates possession.
  4. which: relates to animals and objects.
  5. that: can refer to people, animals, or objects.

List of Relative Pronouns

Learn relative pronouns with their usages and examples.


  • Which” refers to animals and objects.
  • Can act as the subject or the object of the relative clause


  • The wisdom of nations lies in their proverbs, which are brief and pithy.
  •  Laws are like cobwebs, which may catches small flies, but let wasps and horns break through.
  • Never leave that until tomorrow which you can do today.
  • He was unwilling to make a prediction about which books would sell in the coming year.


  • That” refers to people, things, and animals (who and which can be replaced by that, which we use commonly in spoken English)
  • Can act as the subject or the object of the relative clause


  •  It’s a poor mouse that has only on hole.
  • The love that is too violent will not last long.
  • It is a good horse that never stumbles; and a good wife that never grumbles.
  • Think about the misforture of others that you may be satisfied with your own lot.


  • Who” refers to people
  • Can act as the subject or the object of the relative clause


  • He who overcomes his anger subdues his greatest enemy.
  • I don’t know who my grandfather was. I’ m much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.
  • He who is ashamed of asking is ashamed of learning.
  • The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.


  • “Whom” refers to person when the person is the object of the verb


  • She’s the woman whom I met in Greece.
  • From whom did you receive these flowers?
  • They demanded a huge ransom for the return of the little girl whom they had kidnapped.
  • The author whom you criticized in your review has written a reply.


  • “Whose” refers to possessions of people, animals


  • Whose keys are on the kitchen counter?
  • Choose a stylist recommended by someone whose hair you like.
  • She’s the student whose handwriting is the best in my class.
  • I felt great pity for the woman whose baby died.


  • “Where” refers to places


  • The moon is not seen where the sun shines.
  • Love will creep where it may not go.
  • Sign your name on the form where I’ve put a cross.
  •  My leg is still very tender where it was bruised.
  • With a nod of his head he indicated to me where I should sit.


  • “When” refers to time


  • He is wise that knows when he’s well enough.
  • The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.
  • The wolf has a winning game when the shepherds quarrel.
  • Let’s cross the bridge when we come to it.


  • Why” refers to reasons


  • She cited three reasons why people get into debt.
  • Everyone was curious as to why Mark was leaving.
  • I think you’d better tell us why you’re asking these questions.
  • I’d like to know the reason why you’re so late.


  • “That” refers to things


  • Don’t put off what you can do today till tomorrow.
  • Never trust another what you should do yourself.
  • It is no use doing what you like ; you have got to like what you do.
  • Pardon me – I didn’t hear what you said.

Common Mistakes and Confusions

Who vs Whom

Who is used as the subject of a verb, whereas whom serves as the object of a verb or a preposition. A simple trick we’ve found useful is to substitute “he/she” for who and “him/her” for whom. If the sentence makes sense with “he/she,” then who is correct. If “him/her” fits, then you should use whom.

  • Correct: The person who called me was unknown.
  • Incorrect: The person whom called me was unknown.
  • Correct: The person to whom I spoke was friendly.
  • Incorrect: The person to who I spoke was friendly.

That vs Which

That and which are often used interchangeably, but there’s a key difference. Use that for essential clauses, without which the sentence would lose its intended meaning. Which introduces non-essential clauses, which can be omitted without altering the overall meaning. Remember, non-essential clauses are set off by commas.

  • Correct: The book that I borrowed was excellent.
  • Incorrect: The book, that I borrowed, was excellent.
  • Correct: The book, which I enjoyed, was a gift.
  • Incorrect: The book which I enjoyed was a gift.

Relative Pronouns and Antecedents

Each relative pronoun must clearly refer to an antecedent. The antecedent is the noun or pronoun that the relative clause is modifying. Ambiguity arises when it’s not clear which noun the relative pronoun is referring to, and that can lead to confusing sentences.

  • Correct: We visited the gallery that our friends recommended.
  • Incorrect: We visited the gallery and the museum, which had the best reviews.

Interactive Exercises

Exercise 1: Fill in the blanks with the appropriate relative pronoun (who, whom, whose, which, that).

  1. The woman ___________ just walked in is my neighbor.
  2. That’s the book ___________ I was talking about yesterday.
  3. Do you know the girl ___________ Michael is talking to?
  4. Here is the phone ___________ you left on the table.
  5. The car ___________ he bought last week is already broken.
  6. She is the scientist ___________ discovery changed the course of medicine.
  7. The tourists ___________ visited the monument were impressed by its size.
  8. This is the actor ___________ performance won him an award.
  9. I have a friend ___________ sister works in that company.
  10. They built a house ___________ has a beautiful garden.


  1. who
  2. that/which
  3. whom/who
  4. that/which
  5. that/which
  6. whose
  7. who
  8. whose
  9. whose
  10. that/which

Exercise 2: Combine Sentences Using Relative Pronouns

  1. This is Mr. Adams. Mr. Adams is my teacher.
  2. That’s the laptop. I bought the laptop last year.
  3. She is the athlete. She won three medals.
  4. I have a neighbor. His dog barks all night.
  5. The cookies were delicious. You baked the cookies.
  6. They called a technician. The technician fixed the air conditioner.
  7. The museum is very famous. It houses ancient artifacts.
  8. There’s the waiter. He served us last time.
  9. I met a woman. Her insights on economics are groundbreaking.
  10. The book was interesting. The book was published in 2005.


  1. This is Mr. Adams, who is my teacher.
  2. That’s the laptop which/that I bought last year.
  3. She is the athlete who won three medals.
  4. I have a neighbor whose dog barks all night.
  5. The cookies that/which you baked were delicious.
  6. They called a technician who fixed the air conditioner.
  7. The museum which/that houses ancient artifacts is very famous.
  8. There’s the waiter who served us last time.
  9. I met a woman whose insights on economics are groundbreaking.
  10. The book that/which was published in 2005 was interesting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the role of relative pronouns in connecting clauses?

Relative pronouns serve a key function in English by linking a dependent clause to an independent clause. This connection is essential in providing additional information about a subject or object without the need to start a new sentence.

How can I correctly use relative pronouns in English?

To use relative pronouns correctly, we need to identify the noun being described and ensure that the relative pronoun agrees in number and perspective. We also use them to introduce relative clauses. For example, “who” and “whom” for people, “which” for things, and “that” for both.

Can you list some examples where relative pronouns are used in sentences?

Certainly! Here are a few sentences where we use relative pronouns: “The cake, which was homemade, won rave reviews,” and “The author who wrote that book won several awards.” These pronouns introduce additional information about the cake and the author, respectively.

How do I choose the appropriate relative pronoun for a given sentence?

Choosing the appropriate relative pronoun depends on the noun you are referring to and the context of the sentence. We use “who” for people, “which” for animals and things, “whose” to indicate possession, and “that” for people, animals, or things in defining clauses.

Are there any special rules or exceptions for using relative pronouns in English?

While there are general guidelines for using relative pronouns, there are exceptions. For instance, “that” is generally not used after a comma or in non-defining clauses. Additionally, “whom” is used in formal contexts or after prepositions, but it’s often replaced with “who” in everyday speech.


Friday 6th of May 2022

I think these kinds of examples help because it's not boring so it makes it ridiculously more enticing.


Monday 2nd of November 2020



Friday 3rd of July 2020

Love the way every topic is made easy to understand and remember by the examples provided


Monday 2nd of November 2020