Good things come to those who wait but the best things come to those who do.
- The girl who ran in the 5K is my best friend.
In the above example, who:
- relates to girl
- introduces the relative clause “ran in the 5K”
The six most commonly used relative pronouns found in the English language are: who, whoever, whom, whose, which, and that. Who, whom, and whoever are reserved for people. Whose is for things that are owned or to show ownership. Which is for things. That is only used in defining relative clauses for both things and people.
Relative pronouns make no distinction between male or female. They can also be used to describe people or things. Here are a couple of examples of defining and non-defining relative clauses combined with relative pronouns:
|defining relative clauses||Subject||The person who took my socks gave them back.The person that took my socks gave them back.||That is preferable|
|Subject||The cat which scratched me is over there.The cat that scratched me is over there.||That is preferable|
|Object||The woman whom baked me a cake was friendly.The lady who baked me a cake was friendly.The lady that baked me a cake was friendly.||Whom is correct in formal English.|
|Object||The food, which was cooked yesterday, doesn’t taste right.The food, that was cooked yesterday, doesn’t taste right.||That is preferred over which. This relative pronoun is optional.|
|Possessive||The child whose homework is already done shouldn’t have to redo the assignment.Children whose parents help them with homework may get better grades.|
|Possessive||I was looking for a dog whose owner had extra treats.I was looking for a dog of which the owner had extra treats.||Whose can be used with things of which is also possible.|
|non-defining relative clauses||Subject||My sister, who is very pretty, gets lots of dates.|
|Subject||The door, which was propped against the wall, fell down.The doors, which were propped against the wall, fell down.|
|Object||My sister, whom I enjoy spending time with, is getting married in the fall.My sister, who I enjoy spending time with, is getting married in the fall.||Whom is correct in formal English. Who is more common.|
|Object||My house, which I was in during the storm, lost power.|
|Possessive||My friend, whose dog just barked, is also a vegetarian.|
|Possessive||The house, whose owners decided to move, sat alone.The house, the owners of which decided to move, sat alone.||Whose and of which can both be used.|
Relative Pronouns In Formal English
In general, relative pronouns are necessary for formal written English. Also, who and which are more common than that in formal English. Here are a few examples:
- She did not have the dog I wanted. (Informal)
- She did not have the dog which I wanted. (Formal)
- He is the man I spoke to. (Informal)
- He is the man to whom I spoke to. (Formal)
When To Use Whom
Whom is not commonly used in conversations in English. Whom is used often in formal written English. There are other rules as well for when to use who, whom and whose.
What, When and Where as Relative Pronouns
What, when and where can also be used as relative pronouns. They are not commonly used as them, but be aware that there are cases.[slickquiz id=27]