Relative Pronouns in English Grammar

Introduction

Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses. The relative pronouns in English grammar are who, whom, whose, which and that. The pronouns we use depends on what we want to refer to and what type of relative clause we are using. Who, whom, whose and that are for people and animals and which, whose and that are for things.

Learn about English relative pronouns with Lingolia’s online grammar rules and interactive exercises.

Example

Yesterday we were visited by a man who wanted to repair our washing machine.

The man, who was in a hurry, forgot to put the handbrake on. So the car, which was parked on a hill, slowly rolled down the street. It crashed into a traffic sign that stood on the street.

A woman whose children were playing outside called the police. Our neighbour, whom the woman accused, has a similar car.

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Table of English Relative Pronouns

The chart below provides a simple overview of the different relative pronouns in English grammar and their usage.

relative pronounsusageexample
who subject/object (people) Yesterday we were visited by a man who wanted to repair our washing machine.
The man, who was in a hurry, forgot to put the handbrake on.
which subject/object (not people) The car, which was parked on a hill, slowly rolled down the street.
whose possession (all) A woman whose children were playing outside called the police.
whom

object (people) especially in non-defining relative clauses

very formal (in colloquial speech, who is preferred)

Our neighbour, whom the woman accused, has a similar car.
(in colloquial speech: Our neighbour, who the woman accused, …)
that

subject/object (all) in defining relative clauses

(who/which are also possible)

The car crashed into a traffic sign that stood on the street.

Subject Pronoun or Object Pronoun?

The relative pronouns who/which/that can replace a subject or an object. To figure out whether who/which/that is a subject pronoun or an object pronoun, we pay attention to the following:

  • If the relative pronoun who/which/that is followed by a verb, then it is a subject pronoun.
    Example:
    The man, who was in a hurry.
    The car, which was parked on a hill.
    A traffic sign that stood on the street.
  • If the relative pronoun who/which/that is followed by an article, noun or pronoun, then it is an object pronoun. In this case, who can be replaced with whom.
    Example:
    Our neighbour, who the car belonged to./ Our neighbour, to whom the car belonged.
    The car which the man had parked on a hill.
    A traffic sign that someone had put on the street.

Relative Pronouns with Prepositions

We can use a relative pronoun with a preposition. In informal and spoken English, the preposition normally comes at the end of the sentence.

informal:
The police did not know who the car belonged to.
The hill which the car was parked on was very steep.
The man whose car I left my sunglasses in.

However in formal English, we can also put the preposition before the relative pronouns. This is common in written English.

formal:
The hill on which the car was parked was very steep.
The man in whose car I had left my sunglasses
The police did not know to whom the car belongs.

The most common usage of whom is with a preposition.

Relative Clauses

For more information about the uses of relative pronouns see Relative Clauses.