In English, a ‘relative pronoun‘ relates to the noun it is describing. We can use relative pronouns to identify the noun – person, thing, place etc – we are talking about, or to give extra information. Relative Pronouns are used in a ‘Relative Clause’ and relative clauses can be defining or non-defining.
When relates to a time or date.
Where relates to a place.
Who refers to a person or people.
Which refers to animals or things.
Defining Relative Clauses
A defining relative clause is used to identify the noun (place, person, time, thing) we are talking about.
- The woman who won the lottery this week lives in Milano.
- The house which I live in is six years old.
- The town where I was born is very small.
- The man whose daughter has influenza lives here.
Non-Defining Relative Clauses
A non-defining relative clause gives extra information about the noun.
A non-defining clause is separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.
- Mrs Smith, who won the lottery this week, is 68 years old.
- My house, which I bought 6 years ago, is very small.
- Margate, where I was born, is a small town in Kent.
- Mr Smith, whose daughter has influenza, is a writer.
Prepositions go at the end of the relative clause
- The waiter (who I gave my credit card to) is over there.
- The company (which I work for) has an office in Singapore.
- The house (which I live in) is six years old.
Whose is a possessive relative pronoun. We use it when we speak about the ‘owner’ of a noun.
- My sister, whose son is studying in South Africa, wants to live in America.
- EasyJet, whose offices are closed today, also sell tickets online.
- My dog, whose bed is in the kitchen, prefers to sleep on the sofa!
The relative pronoun ‘that‘ can refer to both people and things, so we can sometimes use it to replace who or which. However, this is not always possible and ‘that’ cannot be used in non-identifying relative clauses. It’s cheating, but if you want to avoid making mistakes, don’t use ‘that’!
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