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A relative pronoun is a word that introduces and connects a dependent (or relative) clause to an independent clause. A clause that begins with a relative pronoun is ready to answer questions like Which one? How many are there? or Which kind? All relative pronouns are who, whom, what, which, and that. Relative clauses are also known as adjective clauses because they identify or provide additional information about the subject of the independent clause to which they are related. These clauses, like adjectives, describe the subject in some way. Like conjunctions, relative pronouns are words that connect clauses—in this case, a relative clause to its main clause.
What is a Pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun (I, me, he, she, herself, you, it, that, they, each, few, many, who, whoever, whose, someone, everybody, etc.). Pronouns are classified into three types: subject (for example, he), object (him), and possessive (his). An antecedent is a noun that is replaced by a pronoun. Pronouns, in general, allow us to shorten our sentences and make them sound less repetitive.
Types of Pronouns
We use many different types of pronouns in writing and speech. Some are listed below
- Possessive pronouns
- Personal pronouns
- Relative pronouns
- Reflexive pronouns
- Indefinite pronouns
- Demonstrative pronouns
- Interrogative pronouns
- Intensive pronouns
- Reciprocal pronouns
What is a Relative Pronoun?
A relative pronoun is one that opens a relative clause. A “relative” pronoun is so named because it “relates” to the word that its relative clause modifies. As an example, consider the following:
The man who came to the door left a package for us.
Types of Relative Pronouns
The type of relative pronoun used is determined by the type of noun being described.
Possessive Relative Pronouns
Some people are surprised to learn that both who and which can take the possessive form whose. Some will argue that which is a better construction when discussing things rather than people, but this causes unnecessary confusion. The truth is that for hundreds of years, it has been widely and correctly applied to nonhumans.
Examples: He apologized to the girl whose spectacles got broken.
The mansion whose landlord is on holiday has an unappealing garden.
Compound Relative Pronouns
The word compound relative pronoun appears to be complicated, but it isn’t. Simply put, compound relative pronouns refer to a large group of individuals or objects. Whoever, whomever, whichever, and whatever are among them.
Examples: Please tell whoever may call that madam is not available.
Whomever you employ will be acceptable to me.
Relative Pronoun Usage
A relative pronoun is used to introduce (or head) an adjective phrase. A noun is followed by an adjective clause:
- To recognise it.
Example: The girl who won the contest is inside.
- Tell us something unique about it.
Example: Inspector Carly, who won the contest, is inside.
Relative Pronoun Examples
Here are some basic examples of relative pronouns. The relative pronoun in each sentence is given in bold letters.
|Relative pronoun||Example sentence|
|That||The cat that stole the cake is back.|
|Which||My new cat, which I adopted last year, loves carrots.|
|Who||The man who bought his car found a suitcase in the backseat.|
|Whom||Our advisor, whom we hired for over a year, was related to the petitioner.|
|Whose||The young boy whose cat scratched our furniture has offered to repair the chairs.|
Confusions Regarding Usage of Relative Pronouns
- That and which are two relative pronouns whose functions are often confused. “That” introduces a restricted clause whereas “which” a non-restrictive clause. A restricted clause is an important aspect of a sentence; without it, the meaning of the sentence would be altered. Non-restrictive clauses are the polar opposite of restrictive clauses.
- When referring to persons, not every style guide believes that “that” is an acceptable relative pronoun to use. The following sentence may appear incorrect to some.
The teacher that gives better marks is always the pupils’ favourite.
To be honest, this sentence is completely acceptable. You should, however, consider the possibility that your readers will disagree. Choose the safer option, who.
- The noun to which a pronoun refers is called an antecedent. Place an antecedent exactly before the relative pronoun that refers to it to guarantee clarity. Otherwise, the sentence creates a needless ambiguity.
Example: “The clean gardens at the end of our boulevard are a favourite place of mine.” Is better than “The gardens at the end of our boulevard, which are clean, are a favourite place of mine.”
Relative Pronoun Exercise
Take a simple Relative Pronoun Exercise to see if you understood the concepts discussed above.
- The sport _______ we liked the most was cricket.
- The participant _______ I defeated is from Nepal.
- We don’t know the person _____donated this money.
- We drove past the college, _____ is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year
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