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English Relative Pronouns

The nine relative pronouns that introduce adjective or relative clauses in English are:

• who
• whom
• that
• which
• Ø (null relative pronoun)
• whose
• when
• where
• why

Syntactic functions are grammatical functions that relate to other grammatical functions within the syntax, or word
order, of a sentence. For example, the grammatical function of object complement is directly related to the
syntactic functions of direct object and predicate. The five syntactic functions that relative pronouns can perform in
English grammar are:

1. Subject
2. Direct object
3. Prepositional complement
4. Possessive determiner
5. Adverbial

The following sections discuss five functions of relative pronouns and include examples to illustrate use.

Relative pronouns first function as the subject of adjective clauses. A subject is a word, phrase, or clause that
performs the action of or acts upon the verb functioning as the predicate. Take for example the following two

• The book belongs to me.

• The book is on the table.

These two sentences can combine into a single sentence with the help of a relative pronoun. First, the relative
pronoun that replaces the subject the book in the second sentence to form the adjective clause that is on the table.
Then, the adjective clauses attaches to the noun book in the first sentence to form the sentence The book that is
on the table belongs to me. The relative pronoun that still refers to the noun the book making that the subject of the
adjective clause.
The three relative pronouns that can function as the subject of an adjective clause are that, who, and which. Other
examples of relative pronouns functioning as subjects include:

• Harry Potter is the boy who lived.

• The department has experienced problems which have delayed
• The man, who is also my uncle, is a world-renowned poet.
• The teacher punished the students that cheated on the test.
Direct Object
Relative pronouns secondly function as the direct object of adjective clauses. A direct object is a word, phrase, or
clause that that follows and receives the action of a transitive verb. Take for example the following two sentences:

• The cupcake was poisoned.

• The wicked queen ate the cupcake.

These two sentences can likewise combine into a single sentence with the help of a relative pronoun. First, the
relative pronoun that replaces the direct object the cupcake in the second sentence to form the clause the wicked
queen ate that. Then, the relative pronoun that is fronted to the beginning of the clause to form the adjective clause
that the wicked queen ate. Finally, the adjective clause attaches to the noun cupcake in the first sentence to form
the sentence The cupcake that the wicked queen ate was poisoned. The relative pronoun that still refers to the
noun the cupcake making that the direct object of the adjective clause.
The five relative pronouns that can function as the direct object of an adjective clause are that, whom, which, Ø
and informally who. Other examples of relative pronouns functioning as direct objects include:

• The person whom the committee nominated for the prize already won last
• Your son must like the little girl Ø he kicked.
• The glitch, which Espen discovered, is only minor.
• The baby whom her husband watches is their niece.

that el que, la que, los que, las que, lo que

who quien, quienes
which el cual, la cual, los cuales, las cuales, lo cual
whom a quien, a quienes
whose de quien, de quienes, cuyo, cuya, cuyos, cuyas
what lo que, lo cual


I don't know who was here.

No sé quien estuvo aquí.

Jorge Essen, the well-known pianist whom everybody admires, will play here soon.
Jorge Essen, el conocido pianista a quien todos admiran, actuará aquí pronto.

I personally know that author whose books give so much pleasure.

(Conozco personalmente a ese autor cuyos libros me brindan tanto placer.

The lessons which she liked better were those which she learned from others.
Las lecciones que más le gustaban eran aquellas que (las que) aprendía de otros.

That was the subject which I was talking about.

Ese era el tema sobre el cual yo estaba hablando.

I could not understand what they wanted to know.

No pude entender lo que ellos querían saber.

This is exactly what I wanted to find out.

Exactamente esto es lo que quería descubrir.

My brother was the man that (who) was here a moment ago.
Mi hermano fue el hombre que (quien) estuvo aquí hace unos momentos.

The independence that Argentina obtained in 1810 was not recognized until 1816.
La independencia que Argentina obtuvo en 1810 no fue reconocida hasta 1816.

Indirect Requests

Tell someone to do something

Please tell Jane to clean up her room.
Could you tell Bob to call me?
Tell him not to do that.
Tell someone some information
Can you tell them (that) the party starts at nine?
Please tell Mr. Hopkins (that) I will be late.
Ask someone to do something
Please ask Teresa to give me a call.
Could you ask Russell to be here at five?
Ask someone for some information (Yes or No)
Ask Paula if she is coming to the party.
Could you ask them if they did the homework?
Please ask her whether she finished the assignment.
Ask someone for some information (Open ended)
Ask Randy what he is doing.
Please ask her when she will be here.
Would you ask him what he wants?
Will you ask them how much it costs?

Past Continuous vs. Simple Past

Use the past continuous for an action in progress in the past.
Sample: I was watching a good movie.

Use the simple past for a completed action.

Sample: A celebrity walked into the store.

Sample: They use the euro in most of the European Union.

Sample: The euro is used in most of the European Union.

Gerunds: short responses.

I like traveling.
Conditional sentences with if clauses.
Possible situation + simple present Consequence + future with will, may, or might
If you get a high-paying job, you won't have to work as hard.
If you don't have to work as hard, you'll have a lot more free time.
If you have a lot more free time, you'll might get bored.
If you get bored, you may have to look for another job.

Present perfect continuous.

Use the present perfect continuous for actions that start in the past and continue into the
What have you been doing lately? I’ve been working two jobs for the last six months.

Participles as adjectives.
Present participles Past participles
Stephen King's books are fascinating. I'm fascinated by Stephen King's books.
Relative clauses.
Use who or that for people. Use which or that for things.
He's an actor. He won two Oscars. It's a movie. It stars Kate Winslet.
He's an actor who/that won two Oscars. It's a movie which / that stars Kate Winslet.

Modals and adverbs.

Modals Adverbs
It might / may mean he doesn't Maybe / Perhaps it means he doesn't understand
understand you. you.
It could mean he doesn't agree with It possibly / probably means he doesn't agree
you. with you.
That must mean he agrees with you. That definitely means he agrees with you.

Permission, Obligation, and Prohibition.

Permission Obligation Prohibition

You can camp here. You have to camp here. You can't camp here.
You're allowed to take off You've got to take off You aren't allowed to take
your shoes. your shoes. off your shoes.

Unreal conditional sentences with if clauses.

Unreal conditional sentences describe imaginary situations with simple past forms and
consequences in the present.
If I found $750,000, I would / I'd go straight to the mall.
I could buy lots of nice clothes and jewelry.
I might go to the police.
I wouldn't return it so fast.
Past modals.
Use would have or should have + past participle to give opinions or suggestions about
actions in the past.
What should I have done? You should have told them about it.
You shouldn't have hidden it.
What would you have done? I would have called him.
I wouldn't have sent him an e-mail.

Reported speech: requests.

Original request Reported request
Can you play your music more quietly. He asked me to play my music more quietly.
Don't come home after midnight. She told me not to come home after midnight.
She said not to come home after midnight.

Reported speech: statements.

Direct statement Reported statement
I'm not feeling well. She said (that) she wasn't feeling well.
she had houseguest for the
I have houseguest for the weekend. weekend.
she had made a tennis date
I made a tennis date with Kim. with Kim.
she had planned an exciting
I have planned an exciting trip. trip.
They told me
We can't come tomorrow. (that) they couldn't come tomorrow.
We will be out of town. they would be out of town.

We may go out with friends. they might go out with friends.

GERUNDS Describing something.
Sample: Chow Baby is used for feeding your pet while you are away.

Modal Percent Adverb

might / may 0% maybe / perhaps

could 50% probably

must 100% definitely

Don't use s or plural

Maybe: informal situation.

Perhaps: formal situation.
May: chance in present or future.
Might: chance in present or future more probably.

Verb and Noun pairs.

express anger a concern your regrets
give a compliment a reason your congratulations
make a complaint a criticism an excuse
offer an apology sympathy an invitation
tell the truth a joke a lie
tense active passive
present simple I make a cake A cake is made (by me)

present continuous I am making a cake A cake is being made (by me)

past simple I made a cake A cake was made (by me)

past continuous I was making a cake A cake was being made (by me)

present perfect I have made a cake A cake has been made (by me)
A cake has been being made
pres. perf. continuous I have been making a cake (by me)

past perfect I had made a cake A cake had been made (by me)
future simple I will make a cake A cake will be made (by me)
A cake will have been made
future perfect I will have made a cake (by me)

Reported Statements

Past: She said than she made a

Present: I make a cake. ---> cake.
Present continuous: I am Past continuous: She said than
making a cake. ---> she was making a cake.
Present perfect: I have made a Past perfect: She said that she
cake. ---> had made a cake.
Past perfect: She said that she
Past :I drunk martinis ---> had drunk martinis.

Change this direct speech into reported speech:

1. “He works in a bank”
She said ___________________________________________________________

2. “We went out last night”

She told me ________________________________________________________

3. “I’m coming!”
She said ___________________________________________________________

4. “I was waiting for the bus when he arrived”

She told me ________________________________________________________

5. “ I’d never been there before”

She said ___________________________________________________________

6. “I didn’t go to the party”

She told me ________________________________________________________

7. “Lucy’ll come later”

She said ___________________________________________________________

8. “He hasn’t eaten breakfast”

She told me ________________________________________________________

9. “I can help you tomorrow”

She said ___________________________________________________________

10. “You should go to bed early”

She told me ________________________________________________________

11. “I don’t like chocolate”

She told me ________________________________________________________

12. “I won’t see you tomorrow”

She said ___________________________________________________________

13. “She’s living in Paris for a few months”

She said ___________________________________________________________

14. “I visited my parents at the weekend”

She told me ________________________________________________________

15. “She hasn’t eaten sushi before”

She said ___________________________________________________________

16. “I hadn’t travelled by underground before I came to London”

She said ___________________________________________________________

17. “They would help if they could”

She said ___________________________________________________________

18. “I’ll do the washing-up later”

She told me ________________________________________________________

19. “He could read when he was three”

She said ___________________________________________________________

20. “I was sleeping when Julie called”

She said ___________________________________________________________
Reported statements: Answers
1. She said (that) he worked in a bank.
2. She told me (that) they went (had gone) out last night (the night before).
3. She said (that) she was coming.
4. She told me (that) she was waiting for the bus when he arrived.
5. She said (that) she had never been there before.
6. She told me (that) she didn't go (hadn't gone) to the party.
7. She said (that) Lucy would come later.
8. She told me (that) he hadn't eaten breakfast.
9. She said (that) she could help me tomorrow.
10. She told me (that) I should go to bed early.
11. She told me (that) she didn't like chocolate.
12. She said (that) she wouldn't see me tomorrow.
13. She said (that) she is living in Paris for a few months.
14. She told me (that) she visited (had visited) her parents at the weekend.
15. She said (that) she hadn't eaten sushi before.
16. She said (that) she hadn't travelled by underground before she came to London.
17. She said (that) they would help if they could.
18. She told me (that) she would do the washing-up later.
19. She said (that) he could read when he was three.
20. She said (that) she had been sleeping when Julie called.

Relative clauses:

who: when we talk about people

which: when we talk about things
whose: instead of his/her or their

We also use that for who/which.

Relative clauses con where/whose/whom

1. Se puede usar where para hacer referencia a lugares.

The house was very big. We lived there.
The house where we lived was very big. La casa donde vivíamos era muy grande.

2. Se usa whom para hacer referencia a personas en frases donde es el objeto del verbo
ver relative clauses 2.

The person whom I wanted to see was French. La persona a quien quería ver era

Si se usa una preposición con whom tiene que ir antes de la palabra whom.

The person to whom I spoke was French. La persona a quien hable era Francesa.

PERO whom no es muy común en ingles hablado. Es muy formal y es mas corriente usar

Compara estas frases:

The person whom I wanted to see was French.

The person who I wanted to see was French

Las dos frases significan lo mismo el único diferencia es que whom es mas
formal y se usa menos.

The person to whom I spoke was French.

The person who I spoke to was French.

Aquí el significado de las frases es lo mismo pero hay que estar atento a la
posición de la preposición to.

En la segunda frase con who la preposición va DESPUES del verbo. Lo cual es lo mas
normal en frases con relative clauses.

3. Se usa whose en vez de his/her/their en relative clauses

We spoke to a woman. Her bag had been stolen. Hablamos con una mujer. Su bolso
habia sido robado.
We spoke to a woman whose bag had been stolen. Hablamos con una mujer cuyo bolso
habia sido robado.

I saw the man. His dog had died.

I saw the man whose dog had died.
The Use Of Where, Why And When - Relative Clauses
and Preposition Use
Where, referring to a place, why, referring to a reason, and when, referring to a time, can
be used instead of a relative pronoun after a noun.
In defining relative clauses why and when, unlike where can be omitted.
Example: I'd like to know the reason (why) he decided not to come.
February is the month (when) many of my colleagues take skiing holidays.
BUT! She always had wanted to go to a place where she could speak her native tongue.
When, where and why are not omitted in non-defining relative clauses.
Example: I come from the Seattle area, where many successful companies such as
Microsoft and Boeing are located, and I often go home during the summer.
He likes shopping between one and three, when most people are at home, because of the
relative calm.
When speaking, we often omit the relative pronoun.
Whom is formal and most often used when writing.
Relative clauses and prepositions
In formal English prepositions can come before the relative pronoun. However, it much
more common to place prepositions at the end of the relative clause, especially in informal
spoken English.
Example: John Robbins, whom I spoke to by telephone, instructed me to buy 200 shares of
WAKO. Formal
The Ritz, which was stayed at in New York, was extremely expensive.
Defining Relative Clauses
Formal Informal
Person whom Ø
Object which Ø
Example: The banker to whom I gave my check was quite friendly. - formal
The woman I talked to was very pleasant indeed. - informal
The book which I received for my birthday was excellent. - formal
The car he drove was really fast. - informal
Non-Defining Relative Clauses
Formal Informal
Person whom who
Object which which
Example: The bank manager, to whom he addressed his complaints, was very
unhelpful. - formal.
The local branch manager, who I talked to about my problems, was very helpful. -
Introduction and General Usage in
Defining Clauses
Relative pronouns are that, who, whom, whose, which, where, when, and why. They are used to
join clauses to make a complex sentence. Relative pronouns are used at the beginning of the
subordinate clause which gives some specific information about the main clause.
This is the house that Jack built.

I don't know the day when Jane marries him.

The professor, whom I respect, was tenured.

In English, the choice of the relative pronoun depends on the type of clause it is used in. There are
two types of clauses distinguished: defining (restrictive) relative clauses and non-defining (non-
restrictive) relative clauses. In both types of clauses the relative pronoun can function as a subject,
an object, or a possessive.

Relative pronouns in defining clauses

Defining relative clauses (also known as restrictive relative clauses) provide some essential
information that explains the main clause. The information is crucial for understanding the sentence
correctly and cannot be omitted. Defining clauses are opened by a relative pronoun and ARE NOT
separated by a comma from the main clause.
The table below sums up the use of relative pronouns in defining clauses:

Function in Reference to
the sentence People Things / concepts Place Time Reason
Subject who, that which, that
Object (that, who, whom)* (which, that)* where when why
Possessive whose whose, of which

Relative pronoun used as a subject:
This is the house that had a great Christmas decoration.

It took me a while to get used to people who eat pop-corn during the


Relative pronoun used as an object:

1) As can be seen from the table, referring to a person or thing, the relative pronoun may be
omitted in the object position:
This is the man (who / that) I wanted to speak to and whose name I'd


The library didn't have the book (which / that) I wanted.

I didn't like the book (which / that) John gave me.

This is the house where I lived when I first came to the US.

2) whom:
In American English, whom is not used very often. Whom is more formal than who and is very often
omitted in speech:

Grammatically Correct: The woman to whom you have just spoken is my


Common in Speech: The woman (who) you have just spoken to is my teacher.

However, whom may not be omitted if preceded by a preposition:

I have found you the tutor for whom you were looking.

Relative pronoun used as a possessive:

Whose is the only possessive relative pronoun is in English. It can be used with both people and

The family whose house burnt in the fire was immediately given a suite in

a hotel.

The book whose author is now being shown in the news has become a


General remarks: That, Who, Which compared

The relative pronoun that can only be used in defining clauses. It can also be substituted for who
(referring to persons) or which (referring to things). That is often used in speech; who and which are
more common in written English.
William Kellogg was the man that lived in the late 19th century and had

some weird ideas about raising children. - spoken, less formal

William Kellogg was the man who lived in the late 19th century and had

some weird ideas about raising children. - written, more formal

Although your computer may suggest to correct it, referring to things, which may be used in the
defining clause to put additional emphasis on the explanation. Again, the sentence with which is
more formal than the one with that: Note that since it is the defining clause, there is NO comma
used preceding which:

The café that sells the best coffee in town has recently been closed. -

less formal

The café which sells the best coffee in town has recently been closed. -

more formal

Some special uses of relative pronouns in defining clauses

that / who
Referring to people, both that and who can be used. That may be used to refer to someone in
He is the kind of person that/who will never let you down.

I am looking for someone that/who could give me a ride to Chicago.

However, when a particular person is being spoken about, who is preferred:

The old lady who lives next door is a teacher.

The girl who wore a red dress attracted everybody's attention at the


that / which
There several cases when that is more appropriate than and is preferred to which:

After the pronouns all, any(thing), every(thing), few, little, many, much, no(thing), none,
The police usually ask for every detail that helps identify the missing

person. - that used as the subject

Marrying a congressman is all (that) she wants. - that used as the object

After verbs that answer the question WHAT? For example, say, suggest, state, declare, hope, think,
write, etc. In this case, the whole relative clause functions as the object of the main clause:

Some people say (that) success is one percent of talent and ninety-nine

percent of hard work.

The chairman stated at the meeting (that) his company is part of a big-

time entertainment industry.

After the noun modified by an adjective in the superlative degree:

This is the funniest story (that) I have ever read! - that used as the


After ordinal numbers, e.g., first, second, etc.:

The first draft (that) we submitted was really horrible. - that used as

the object

If the verb in the main clause is a form of BE:

This is a claim that has absolutely no reason in it. - that used as the