ENGLISHMain English Grammar

RELATIVE PRONOUNS (WHO, WHOM, WHICH, THAT, AS, WHAT)

RELATIVE PRONOUNS

Definition: A Relative Pronoun is one which is used to refer to nouns/pronouns mentioned before. That noun/pronoun is called its antecedent. Relative Pronouns can be used to join two sentences/clauses; e.g.

I met Sohan who had just returned from Mumbai.

(The word WHO relates to the noun Sohan; therefore it is a relative pronoun here, and Sohan is its antecedent.)

Relative pronouns are:

Who Whom Which That As What

1. Use of ‘THE’ before the noun of a Relative Pronoun

Usually we use THE + NOUN before Relative clauses, but sometimes we can also use ‘a/an + noun’, ‘plural nouns without THE’ and ‘all, none, anybody, somebody etc. and those’; e.g.

1. That story is about a boy who goes to temple daily.
2. They should give the money to somebody who they think needs the treatment most.
3. This is a man who takes his responsibilities seriously.
4. Do you have anything that will help my throat?
5. Everything that you say seems silly to me.
6. I’m sorry, but that is althat I saw.

NOTE: Sometimes we separate these clauses from their noun/pronoun by using a word or phrase; e.g.

a) There’s a girl here who wants your help.
b) I read something in this book which attracted me most.

2. Functions of Relative Pronouns

A) As a subject of a clause

i) He is the boy who has stood first in the examination. (here WHO is the subject of the verb HAS STOOD.)
ii) This is the cat which drank all the milk. (here WHICH is the subject of the clause verb DRANK.)
iii) The book that is lying on the table is mine. (here THAT is the subject of the verb IS LYING)

B) As object of the verb of a clause

i) She is the girl whom I met in the garden yesterday. (here WHOM is the object of the verb MET in the clause WHOM I MET IN THE GARDEN YESTERDAY.)
ii) This is the book which I like most. (here WHICH is the object of the verb LIKE in the clause WHICH I LIKE MOST.)

C) As object of a preposition

i) This is the doll with which I usually play. (here WHICH is the object of the preposition WITH.)
ii) There is no room in which we can stay tonight. (here WHICH is the object of the preposition IN.)
iii) He is the boy about whom I was talking. (here WHOM is the object of the preposition ABOUT.)

3. Defining Relative Clause

When a clause with a Relative Pronoun works as an adjective and the Relative Pronoun defines its antecedent; it’s called Defining Relative Clause; e.g.

The man who lives here is my friend.

[In this sentence the clause WHO LIVES HERE is working as an adjective does, therefore this clause is an example of DEFINING RELATIVE CLAUSE. Without this Relative Clause it’s not clear which man we are talking about. Comma is not used before the Defining Clause.]

4. Non-defining Clause

We place Non-defining Relative Clauses after nouns which are definite already. Therefore they do not define the noun, means they do not work like adjectives, rather they only give some more information about it. These relative clauses are not necessary in the sentence and therefore can be omitted without causing confusion. Also we separate them from their nouns by using a comma; e.g.

I have bought a shirt, which is white.

[In this sentence the relative clause WHICH IS WHITE is not defining its noun SHIRT, rather it’s giving additional information about that SHIRT. Therefore this clause is an example of NON-DEFINING CLAUSE. Without this relative clause, the clause I HAVE BOUGHT A SHIRT is making a good sense on its own. You see that there is a comma between the noun SHIRT and the Non-Defining Clause.]

Difference between DEFINING and NON-DEFINING Clauses

a) The students who passed 12th examination applied for science.
b) The students, who passed 12th examination, applied for medicine.

[In sentence (1) there is no comma between the noun STUDENTS and the clause WHO PASSED 12th EXAMINATION, means it’s a Defining Clause, and therefore it’s is working as an adjective of the noun STUDENTS making it defined. It’s telling us that only those students who passed 12th examination, applied for science; means not all the students, and implies that there were other students also who did not apply for science.

In sentence (2) there is comma between them; means it’s a Non-Defining Clause. This is not defining the noun STUDENTS. The sentence therefore implies that all the students applied for science.]

5. WHO, WHOM and WHOSE as relative pronouns

A) WHO and its objective case WHOM are used specifically for human beings; e.g.

i) The boy who met you in the park is my brother.
ii) We don’t know the person who donated this money.
iii) There’s this guy at work, who’s one of my friends.
iv) He is the actor whom I like most. (here object of the verb LIKE is needed; so the objective case of WHO i.e. WHOM is used.)
v) The response of those managers whom I have consulted has been very positive and we are looking forward to meeting together.

NOTE: We often use WHO with collective human nouns; e.g. committee, government, group, panel, police,  team); e.g.

Sujata phoned the fire brigade, who then alerted the police.

B) WHO/WHOM are also used for God, gods, fairies, angels; e.g.

i) You must worship God, who is the creator of the universe.
ii) There are many stories about fairies, who fly.

 C) WHO/WHOM are also used for pet animals if they have been thought like persons; e.g.

i) Moti, who is always barking, frightens everyone passing by.
ii) That’s the dog who doesn’t like me.

D) WHOSE is possessive of WHO and is used for human beings, animals and also lifeless things; e.g.

i) He’s marrying a girl whose family don’t seem to like him. (possessive of GIRL)
ii) She has a dog whose colour is white. (possessive of dog, an animal)
iii) A triangle whose three sides are equal is called an equilateral triangle. (possessive of TRIANGLE, a thing)
iv) Look at the setting sun whose rays have reddened the sky. (possessive of SUN)

Difference between usage of Relative Pronouns WHO and WHOM

The main confusion between their uses is because of conversational language as WHO is seen being used frequently in place of WHOM. But in standard English both the words should be used according to the rules associated with them.

i) WHO
WHO can only be used as a subject of a clause, and therefore is equal to the subjective cases of the pronouns I, WE, YOU, HE, SHE, THEY; Being so it must take a verb after it; e.g.

a) She is my sister, who is a teacher.
b) The teacher who teaches you is very intelligent.

[You cannot use WHOM in place of WHO here as we need subject of the verb IS in the first sentence and subject of the verb TEACHES in the second.]

ii) WHOM
WHOM is objective case of WHO; therefore it can only be used as an object of some verb. Being so it’s equal to the objective cases of the pronouns (ME, US, YOU, HIM, HER, THEM), and does not have its own verb; e.g.

a) Meera is a good girl, whom I love.
b) Mohit is your friend, whom I met in morning.
c) He is the actor whom I like most. (object of the verb LIKE)

How to know where to use WHO and where to use WHOM

Problem is mainly seen in the following type of sentences between the use of WHO and WHOM

a) The person WHO (or WHOM) we thought was guilty proved to be innocent.
b) The man WHO (or WHOM) we feared we had injured proved to be unharmed.

[People always tempt themselves to use WHOM in both the given sentences; maybe because it is felt that the it is the object of the verb THOUGHT in the first sentence and verb FEARED in the second sentence. But it is not so. In the first sentence the subject of WAS GUILTY is required, hence WHO is correct; and in the second sentence the object of HAD INJURED is required, hence WHOM is correct.]

NOTE-I: In case of confusion count the number of verbs and see whether or not there are as many subjects in the sentence. If every verb of the sentence has a subject, we need WHOM otherwise WHO.

See this sentence to understand it clearly:

The doctor who/whom you recommended is not available for three months.

(In this sentence, the verb RECOMMENDED has the subject YOU, the verb IS has the subject THE DOCTOR. There is no verb left now. Therefore we need WHOM here.)

NOTE-II: After a preposition, objective case is used; so we use WHOM (not WHO) after a preposition; e.g.

a) You are the boy about whom I was talking. (ABOUT is a preposition.)
b) She is the girl with whom Mohan lives. (WITH is a preposition.)

6. WHICH as a Relative Pronoun

A) WHICH is used for animals and lifeless things only. Unlike WHO, both the subjective and objective cases are the same for WHICH; means we use WHICH for subjective as well as objective case; e.g.

i) The dog which barked at me did not fortunately bite. (subject of the verb BARKED)
ii) It was the same picture which I saw at the National Gallery.(object of the verb SAW)
iii) He won’t have much time to prepare for the meeting, which is this afternoon.

NOTE-I: We use WHICH (not WHO, WHOM or THAT) if the whole clause is the antecedent for a relative pronoun; e.g.

i) He has paid off his debts, which is a clear proof of his honesty.
ii) She has passed this examination with good marks, which proves that she is intelligent.

[In both the sentences above, WHICH is not the Relative Pronoun of DEBTS or MARKS, rather it’s Relative Pronoun of the complete clauses He has paid off his debts and She has passed this examination with good marks. So you can’t use WHO, WHOM or THAT here.]

NOTE-II: We use WHICH or THAT, not WHAT; e.g.

INCORRECT: Another activity what I have chosen is photography.
CORRECT: Another activity which/that I have chosen is photography.

B) ‘Both ‘OF WHICH’ and ‘WHOSE’ are possessives of WHICH

A building whose walls are not painted looks ugly.
= A building of which walls are not painted looks ugly.

7. AS and THAT as Relative Pronouns

A) THAT as a relative pronoun can be used in both subjective and objective cases, for both human beings and things, means it can take place of WHO, WHOM and WHICH. However THAT can only be used in Defining Clauses, never in Non-Defining Clauses; e.g.

i) This is the man who met me in the garden.
= This is the man that met me in the garden.

ii) The table which is red is mine.
= The table that is red is mine.

iii) The man whom I like most is my father.
= The man that I like most is my father.

NOTE: You cannot use THAT in the below sentence as it’s a Non-Defining Clause.

INCORRECT: He is a famous dancer, that lives in my town.
CORRECT: He is a famous dancer, who lives in my town.

INCORRECT: I have bought a car, that is white.
CORRECT: I have bought a car, which is white.

INCORRECT: Mohit is your friend, that I met in morning.
CORRECT: Mohit is your friend, whom I met in morning.

B) After the following we use THAT (not WHO, WHOM or WHICH); e.g.

i) Superlative Degree

a) He is the most hardworking boy that I have ever seen. (MOST HARDWORKING is a superlative degree)
b) The Wimbledon men’s final was the best game of tennis that I’ve ever seen.

ii) After the following:

All (=Everything) All  + Uncountable Nouns All + Countable Nouns Referring to Things

a) I have told you all that I know. (ALL means everything here)
b) She has spent all the money that I gave her. (MONEY is an uncountable noun)
c) All the apples that are in the refrigerator are rotten. (APPLES is a countable noun referring to a thing)

NOTE: If ALL has been used for persons we can use either WHO or THAT; e.g.

A welcome is extended to all who wish to come.
= A welcome is extended to all that wish to come.

iii) Everything, Nothing, Much, Little

a) I have given you everything that I had.
b) I do nothing that can harm anybody.
c) She has spent the little money that she borrowed from me in the morning.

iv) After the following when they are referring to things:

Few Any Only None No

a) He has lost the few rupees that his father gave him yesterday.
b) This is the only dress that can fit you.
c) Any help that you can give me will be appreciated.

NOTE: When these words refer to persons we can use either of WHO and THAT.

v) Use of THAT /AS after THE SAME

A) If there is a subject of the second clause is given we use THAT (not AS) as Relative Pronoun; e.g.

He told me the same story that he told me.

(Here HE is the subject of the second clause HE TOLD ME.)

B) If a verb is there directly after the relative pronoun we also use THAT after THE SAME + NOUN; e.g.

a) This is the same girl that deceived him. (verb DECEIVED is there, so you can’t use WHO)
b) This is the same dog that bit me. (verb BIT is there, so you can’t use WHICH)

NOTE: When we have to show similarity we use AS (not THAT) after THE SAME; e.g.

a) This is the same dog as mine.
b) I like the same dress as my brother.
c) She has the same fair hair and blue eyes as her mother had.
d) This coffee is the same as we had at Mr Sharma’s. (not THAT)

vi) Use of THAT /AS after SUCH 

Normally we use AS after SUCH, but we use THAT after SUCH if there is a cause of something in the SUCH-CLAUSE and result in the other clause; e.g.

There was such a noise that I was not able to hear anything.

NOTE: And also we use THAT after SUCH if a verb is used directly after SUCH; e.g.

Such was his behaviour that everybody disliked him.

vii After Interrogative Pronouns such as WHO, WHOM, WHOSE, WHICH, WHAT we use THAT; e.g.

a) Who that I know has beaten you?
b) Who am I that I should prevent you from going to the mall?
c) What is that that is shining so brightly?
d) Whose is this house that looks exceptionally beautiful?

viii) After ‘It + be + Nouns other than Proper Nouns’ use THAT; in other cases we can use WHO/WHOM; e.g.

a) It is the boss that has finalized the report. (BOSS is not proper noun)
b) It is careless driving that causes accidents. (DRIVING is not a proper noun)
c) It is Rakesh Gupta who teaches English here. (RAKESH GUPTA is a proper noun)

ix) If two nouns are joined by AND, and one of them is a human being and the other an animal or a thing, we use THAT (not WHO/WHOM/WHICH); e.g.

a) The man and his dog that I saw yesterday have been murdered.
b) I like everybody and everything that are simple.

x) THAT has no Possessive Case, neither can we make it possessive by putting OF before it; e.g.

INCORRECT: The girl of that mother works in my office is very fashionable.
CORRECT: The girl whose mother works in my office is very fashionable.

INCORRECT: The pen of that colour is red is mine.
CORRECT: The pen of which colour is red is mine. OR The pen whose colour is red is mine.

xi) If a Relative Pronoun is needed after a preposition we cannot use THAT; use WHOM/WHICH rather; e.g.

INCORRECT: This is the house in that I live.
CORRECT: This is the house in which I live.

NOTE: We can use THAT in such a case only when you’ve transferred the preposition after the verb. In such a case we can also omit the relative pronoun altogether; e.g.

a) This is the man to whom I have talked on this point already.
= This is the man that I have talked to on this point already.
= This is the man I have talked to on this point already.

b) This is the house in which I live.
= This is the house that I live in.
= This is the house I live in.

xii) After ‘As + Quantitative Adjective + Noun’ use AS (not WHO, WHOM, WHICH or THAT); e.g.

a) You can take as many books as you like.
b) She asked as many questions as she could.

xiii) We do not use THAT when it is not referring to an antecedent; e.g.

INCORRECT: The more that you earn, the more you spend.
CORRECT: The more you earn, the more you spend.

INCORRECT: The sooner that we start, the sooner we shall arrive.
CORRECT: The sooner we start, the sooner we shall arrive.

INCORRECT: The further that we went, the worse the weather became.
CORRECT: The further we went, the worse the weather became.

8. WHAT as a relative pronoun

WHAT as a Relative Pronoun can only be used for things expressing the following meaning:

That which Those which The thing which The things which

a) What he says is incorrect. (here WHAT = that which)
b) What cannot be cured must be endured. (here WHAT = that which)
c) You can take what you like. (here WHAT = the thing/things which)

NOTE: WHAT as a relative pronoun does not have an antecedent. The noun for WHAT is understood. Those nouns are THAT THING, THOSE THINGS, THE THING/THINGS WHICH; e.g.

INCORRECT: You can take the dress what you like.
CORRECT: You can take the dress which/that you like.

(Here THE DRESS is the antecedent, so you can’t use WHAT. Use WHICH or THAT in place of WHAT here.)

9. Omission of Relative Pronouns

Relative pronouns can only be omitted from defining clauses, we cannot remove the relative pronoun of a non-defining clause at all.

A) Removal of a Relative Pronoun in Subjective Case

i) Generally the relative pronoun in subjective case cannot be removed, but if the Relative Pronoun has BE as verb, and it has a noun as its complement we can remove that Relative Pronoun provided it’s in a Non-Defining Clause; e.g.

He is Dr Ghosh, who is our Principal.
= He is Dr Ghosh, our Principal.

She is Miss Monica, who is our class teacher.
= She is Miss Monica, our class teacher.

Ram, who is my friend, is a good teacher.
= Ram, my friend, is a good teacher.

ii) A Relative Pronoun in subjective case of a Defining Clause can also be removed, in that case the verb of that Relative Pronoun is used as a participle of the noun of that Relative Pronoun; e.g.

I know the girl who is dancing with your brother.
= I know the girl dancing with your brother.

The man who led the procession was killed by the police.
= The man leading the procession was killed by the police.

All the persons who were injured in the accident were sent to hospital.
= All the persons injured in the accident were sent to hospital.

iii) Relative Pronoun in subjective case of a Defining Clause can also be removed if that pronoun has BE + AVAILABLE/POSSIBLE. But in that case the verb BE is also removed; e.g.

I am going to send you all the books that are available with me.
= I am going to send you all the books available with me.

Monday is the only day that is possible to spare.
= Monday is the only day possible to spare.

iv) If an antecedent has two relative pronouns in subjective case, the second relative pronoun can be removed; e.g.

I have invited Dr Ratan, who lives in Agra and who comes here once a month.
= I have invited Dr Ratan, who lives in Agra and comes here once a month.

B) Removal of a Relative Pronoun in Objective Case

The Relative Pronoun can be removed if it’s in the Objective Case of a Defining Clause; e.g.

She is the girl whom I love.
= She is the girl I love.

He is the actor that I like most.
= He is the actor I like most.

This is the flat which Mohan bought.
= This is the flat Mohan bought.

NOTE-I: Never use any other kind of pronoun like me, us, you, him, her, it, them, once the Relative Pronoun has been removed; e.g.

INCORRECT: She is the girl I love her.
CORRECT: She is the girl I love.

INCORRECT: He is the actor I like him most.
CORRECT: He is the actor I like most.

INCORRECT: This is the flat Mohan bought it.
CORRECT: This is the flat Mohan bought.

NOTE-II: We cannot remove such a Relative Pronoun if it has a preposition in front; e.g.

INCORRECT: He is the man about I was talking.
CORRECT: He is the man about whom I was talking.

(In this sentence you can remove that relative pronoun only if the preposition has been shifted after the verb; therefore the following sentence is correct. HE IS THE MAN I WAS TALKING ABOUT.

10. Position of Relative Pronouns

To make the meaning of a sentence clear, the relative pronoun should be kept extreme close to its antecedent. To understand this, see it:

a) The girl who died here was the daughter of Dr Verma.
b) The girl was the daughter of Dr Verma who died here.

[The place of relative pronoun has changed the meanings of these two sentences completely. In the first sentence THE GIRL dies; whereas in the second her father dies.]

NOTE-I: Wrong place of use of relative pronouns has made the following sentences incorrect as they are not put adjacent to their antecedents.

INCORRECT: The issue is very sensitive which she has raised.
CORRECT: The issue which she has raised is very sensitive.

INCORRECT: I have read Shakespeare’s plays, who is the greatest dramatist of English.
CORRECT: I have read the plays of Shakespeare, who is the greatest dramatist of English.

INCORRECT: I have read the plays of Shakespeare, which are very interesting.
CORRECT: I have read Shakespeare’s plays, which are very interesting.

NOTE-II: But if a noun is described by any descriptive phrase, the relative pronoun is used after that phrase, not with the noun itself; e.g.

a) I met Dr Rajan, the Director, who gave me this information.
b) I have to meet Mrs Pushpa, the Manager’s Secretary, who did our accounts.

NOTE-III: If a noun/antecedent is followed by ALSO, we use the relative pronoun after ALSO PHRASE; e.g.

They also serve who only stand and wait.

11. POSITION OF PREPOSITIONS IN RELATIVE CLAUSES

A) In relative clauses, a preposition placed before WHOM /WHICH cannot be moved to the end of the clause; e.g.

INCORRECT: He is the boy whom I was playing with.
CORRECT: He is the boy with whom I was playing.

INCORRECT: This is the shop which she purchased her dress from.
CORRECT: This is the shop from which she purchased her dress.

NOTE-I: But if the relative pronoun is removed from the sentence, the preposition moves at the end of the clause; e.g.

i) They are the persons I was running with.
ii) This is the shop I bought my computer from.

NOTE-II: When the object of the preposition is the relative pronoun THAT, the preposition is always placed at the end of the clause; e.g.

INCORRECT: Here is the book for that you were looking.
CORRECT: Here is the book that you were looking for.

INCORRECT: This is the man with that I stay.
CORRECT: This is the man that I stay with.

NOTE-III: If THAT is the relative pronoun, it can be removed from the sentence altogether. On removing the relative pronoun THAT the above sentences will be; e.g.

i) Here is the book you were looking for.
ii) This is the man I stay with.

12. Compound Relative Pronouns

Some relative pronouns are such that have  EVER, SO, SOEVER in their end like WHOEVER, WHOSOEVER, WHOSO, WHATSOEVER, WHICHEVER; they are called compound relative pronouns; e.g.

a) Whoever comes late will be fined. (WHOEVER = anyone who)
b) You can do whatever you like. (WHATEVER = anything that)
c) I have asked him to buy whichever he likes. (WHICHEVER = any that)

13. Important facts about Relative Pronouns

A) In defining clauses we do not use a possessive adjective (my, our, your, his, her, their, its) or a demonstrative adjective (this, that, these, those) before the noun/antecedent of the relative pronoun, rather we use THE; e.g.

i) The car that you have needs servicing. (not YOUR CAR)
ii) The dress which she bought is beautiful. (not HER DRESS)

B) We do not use a relative pronoun immediately after CHIEFLY, ESPECIALLY, INCLUDING, MAINLY, NAMELY, NOTABLY, PARTICULARLY. We first use the word THOSE and then the relative pronoun after them; e.g.

INCORRECT: All the workers, including whom you have appointed, have gone against you.
CORRECT: All the workers, including those whom you have appointed, have gone against you.

INCORRECT: Most of the members, especially who have not paid their dues, have not come to attend the meeting.
CORRECT: Most of the members, especially those who have not paid their dues, have not come to attend the meeting.

C) If a relative pronoun is preceded with a preposition, that preposition is not repeated in the sentence; e.g. 

INCORRECT: You are the man with whom we can live with safety.
CORRECT: You are the man with whom we can live safely.

INCORRECT: This is the room in which they live in.
CORRECT: This is the room in which they live.

NOTE: But if you want the second preposition, remove the first one along with the relative pronoun; e.g.

i) You are the man we can live with safety.
ii) This is the room they live in.

D) If a noun/antecedent has two relative pronouns, we use AND before the second one; e.g.

INCORRECT: He is a famous writer, who lives in this hostel who wants to open a hospital for the poor
CORRECT: He is a famous writer, who lives in this hostel and who wants to open a hospital for the poor.

E) We do not use the conjunction AND before the Relative Pronouns who, which, that; e.g.

INCORRECT: He is Amit, and who is my brother.
CORRECT: He is Amit, who is my brother.

F) We do not use pronouns IT, HIM, THEM, SHE, THEY, for the antecedents of the Relative Pronouns who, which, that; e.g. 

INCORRECT: This is the pen which I bought it for you.
CORRECT: This is the pen which I bought for you.

G) Verb of a relative pronoun like WHO, WHICH, THAT is according to its antecedent; e.g.

INCORRECT: I, who is a doctor, will examine you.
CORRECT: I, who am a doctor, will examine him.

INCORRECT: The boys who lives here are always disturbing.
CORRECT: The boys who live here are always disturbing.

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Maha Gupta

Maha Gupta

Founder of www.examscomp.com and guiding aspirants on SSC exam affairs since 2010 when objective pattern of exams was introduced first in SSC. Also the author of the following books:

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