What are Relative Pronouns

What are Relative Pronouns 

A relative pronoun is a pronoun that is used to refer to a noun mentioned previously. It is used to start a description of a noun. Therefore, relative pronouns introduce relative clauses. A relative clause is used to identify or describe a noun.

There are only a few relative pronouns in English. They are, who, that, which, whose, and whom.

Who, whom and whose are used to refer to people whereas that and which are mainly used for things. That can be also used for people.

You can understand the usage of these relative pronouns by observing the table below.

People or Things

Subjective Case

Objective Case

Possessive Case









People or Things




In addition, why, where, and when can also be used in informal writing.

Examples of Relative Pronouns

Given below are some examples of relative pronouns.

I saw the chimpanzee that escaped from the zoo.

The celebration, which lasted the whole day, ended with a firework show.

The girl who won the race received a grand prize.

It was a pretty cottage whose kitchen overlooks an herbal garden.

The person whom I phoned yesterday is my elder sister.

He is the artist whose paintings sell for high prices.

This is a book which reminds me of my childhood.

This is the restaurant where we met.

This is the woman to whom I made a promise.

I visited the little boy whose mother passed away last month.

What are Relative Pronouns

This is the book that I was talking about.

Functions of a Relative Pronoun

As mentioned above, a relative pronoun can be used either to identify a noun or describe a noun.

Identifying a Noun:

The man who manages the flower shop is waiting outside.

In this sentence, the underlined relative clause helps to identify the subject, man.

Describing a Noun:

The baby, whose nap has been interrupted, cried loudly.

In this sentence, the underlined relative clause helps to describe the subject, the baby.

You might have noticed in the above examples, that some relative clauses are separated from the main sentence. This depends on the type of information the clause provides.

If the clause provides essential information about the preceding noun, commas are not used. This usually happens with relative clauses that help to identify the nouns.

This is the book that I was talking about.

If the clause provides additional information about the preceding noun, the clause should be separated from the main clause by using commas. This can be generally seen with relative clauses that describe the noun.

The little girl, whose mother I know, became the swimming champion of the school.

Relative Pronouns – Summary          

  • Relative pronouns are used to refer to the preceding noun in order to identify or describe it.
  • Relative pronouns in English include who, that, which, whom, and whose.
  • Relative pronouns introduce relative clauses.
  • If the relative clause contains additional information, it is separated from the main clause by commas.
  • If the relative clause contains essential information, commas are not used.

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