Synonyms and Antonyms Index
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Relative Pronouns and Relative Clauses :
Look at the following sentences.
This is the boy.
He won the first prize.
These two sentences can be joined into one sentence by using WHO.
This is the boy who won the first prize.
In this sentence the word WHO stands for the noun boy and is therefore a pronoun.
It joins two clauses and is therefore a conjunction. It is called a RELATIVE PRONOUN.
A relative pronoun acts as a pronoun and as a conjunction at the same time. The word
for which the relative pronoun stands is called the antecedent.
In the example above, the word BOY is the antecedent of WHO.
The most common relative pronouns are who, whom, which and that.
The kind of clauses introduced by relative pronouns is called relative clause (or) adjective clause.
In the above sentence, “who won the first prize” is a relative clause.
The relatives WHO, WHOM & THAT refer to persons.
WHO is used as the subject of a verb, as in the example above.
Further examples :
1. We caught the man who had stolen the bicycle.
2. The girl who is standing at the well is my sister.
3. People who work hard usually do well.
THAT could be used in place of WHO in the sentences above.
But WHO is more usual.
WHOM is used as the object of a verb or a preposition.
This is the man whom I met at the theatre. (Object of the verb met)
This is the man whom I was talking about. (Object of the preposition about)
To sum up….
The relative WHO is used with people and WHICH is used with things. THAT can be used with both things and people. But WHO is more usual than THAT with people.
WHO, WHICH & THAT are used both as subjects and as objects.
In a formal style, WHOM is used as object.
Relative pronouns can be left out when used as objects. They are usually left out in
spoken English. But they cannot be omitted in non-defining clauses.
Note that WHOM is usually replaced by WHO or THAT in spoken English. It is still more usual to leave out the relative pronoun when it is the object of a verb or preposition.
Formal style / Rare in speech
This is the man whom I met at the theatre.
This is the man whom I was talking about.
Fairly common in speech
This is the man who I met at the theatre.
This is the man that I met at the theatre.
This is the man who I was talking about.
Very common in speech
This is the man I met at the theatre.
This is the man I was talking about.
THAT is more often used for things than for persons.
WHICH is used for things only.
Both THAT & WHICH are used either as subjects or as objects.
The pen that is lying on the table belongs to me.
The pen which is lying on the table belongs to me.
The chair that was broken has been repaired.
The chair which was broken has been repaired.
I enjoyed the novel that you lent me last week.
I enjoyed the novel which you lent me last week.
Here’s the book that you are searching for.
Here’s the book which you are searching for.
In the last two sentences, THAT / WHICH may be omitted.
In more formal English the preposition can be put before WHOM.
This is the man about whom I was talking.
When WHO or THAT is used, the preposition cannot be put before the relative but is moved to the end of the clause.
WHOSE is a possessive relative. It is used together with nouns in the same way as his,
her or its. It can refer to persons or things.
1. The man whose house was burned down left the village.
2. That’s the farm whose owner went to Russia.
The relative what means, “that which” or “the thing which” or “the things which” and
is therefore used without an antecedent.
1. I believed what she said. (= that which she said)
2. Show me what you have bought. (= the things which you have bought)
WHAT is both a relative pronoun and an antecedent at the same time.
The adverbs WHERE, WHEN & WHY, too, can introduce relative clauses.
1. This is the place where he was shot. (where = in which)
2. Do you know the time when he will arrive? (when = at which)
3. The reason why he refused is not known. (why = for which)
WHERE, WHEN & WHY used in this way are called relative adverbs.
There are two types of relative clauses.
1. Defining Clauses
2. Non-Defining Clauses
Most relative clauses are defining clauses. All the relative clauses you have read above are defining clauses.
Compare the following.
1. The boy who has come in first is my nephew.
2. This boy, who has come in first, is my nephew.
In sentence 1, the relative clause (“who has come in first”) defines the preceding noun
(“boy”). Which boy is the speaker's nephew? The boy who has come in first. The defining clause is necessary to understand the meaning of the main clause. There is no pause or comma before a defining clause.
In sentence 2, the relative clause does not define the noun BOY. It merely gives some additional information about the noun which is already defined or identified. It is called a non-defining clause. We can leave out the non-defining clause and still have a sentence which means something. Non-defining clauses are separated from the main clauses by commas.
Note that the relative THAT is not used in non-defining clauses.
Further examples of non-defining relative clauses :
1. This is Mr. Vinod Khanna, who writes comic novels.
2. My father, who is a heavy smoker, catches cold very easily.
3. The house, which was built in 1910, was once owned by the Nawab of Hyderabad.
Remember that a non-defining relative clause is set off by commas.
1) My brother, who lives in Delhi, has bought me an ipad. (Non-defining)
2) My brother who lives in Delhi has bought me an ipad. (Defining)
Sentence 1 implies that I have only one brother and he lives in Delhi.
Sentence 2 means that I have more than one brother; I am speaking about the one who lives in Delhi.
Non-defining relative clauses are formal. In spoken English we normally use two main
clauses instead of a main clause and a non-defining clause.
My brother lives in Delhi and he has bought me an ipad.
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