Little Words, Big Meanings! 5 Must-know English Relative Pronouns with Video Examples
Did you know that there are over 100 pronouns in the English language? That is a lot of little words!
But wait: Don’t run for the hills!
Today, you only have to learn five.
As an essential (important) part of speech, learning the pronouns that are used in English is key to speaking, understanding, reading and writing in English.
But instead of trying to learn them all at once, a better approach is to break them up into smaller categories.
There are nine widely used types of pronouns in the English language.
And today, we are going to learn all about English relative pronouns!
A Brief Review: What Is a Pronoun?
A pronoun is a word that is used to replace or refer to a noun that was previously mentioned. When using a pronoun, it must be clear who or what the pronoun is replacing or referring to. The main reason for using a pronoun is so that you do not have to keep repeating the noun over and over again.
Kelly is a great yoga teacher. Kelly has been practicing yoga for eight years. → Kelly is a great yoga teacher. She has been practicing yoga for eight years.
I met Alex at the mall. I went shopping with Alex. → I met Alex at the mall. I went shopping with her.
Pronouns are probably some of the most useful words in any language!
The nine types of English pronouns are as follows:
Blake loves to play golf. → He loves to play golf.
Tom and Bobby are best friends. → They are best friends.
Melissa called Ali. → Melissa called her.
Elizabeth was waiting for Tracy and Stephanie. → Elizabeth was waiting for them.
The restaurant on the corner is Andy and Alex’s. → The restaurant on the corner is theirs.
The car is John’s. → The car is his.
Which cookies can I eat? → You can eat those.
Which coat can I borrow → You can borrow this.
Who is that? (asking about a person)
What do you want for lunch? (asking about what type of food you want for lunch)
- Any (anybody, anyone)
- Everybody (everyone, everything)
- Some (somebody, someone)
Everyone left the soccer game when it started thundering and lightning.
Someone left you a message on the telephone.
I drove myself to the airport.
He let himself in the house because the door was already unlocked.
- Same pronouns as reflexive pronouns, but they are used to add emphasis (more attention) to the subject of the sentence.
I myself like to have tea after dinner.
We went to see Dr. Sylvia Earle herself give a talk at the university.
- Which (whichever)
- Who (whoever)
- Whom (whomever)
- Whose (whosever)
Dr. Thompson, who has been practicing medicine for thirty years, is an amazing doctor.
I love cats that have fluffy tails.
What Is a Relative Pronoun?
A relative pronoun, like other types of pronouns, refers to a noun or nouns (person/people, place/places or thing/things) that were previously mentioned. Relative pronouns are mainly used to add additional descriptive (detailed) information to a sentence.
Relative pronouns also introduce relative clauses, which can be either defining or non-defining.
A clause is a group of words that contain at least one subject and one verb.
There are two types of clauses: independent and dependent.
An independent clause can stand on its own as a complete sentence.
A dependent clause is an incomplete thought and needs to be connected to another clause in order to form a complete sentence.
When my mom arrives, I will pick her up from the airport.
- “When my mom arrives” is a relative dependent clause.
- “I will pick her up from the airport” is an independent clause because it contains both a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought.
A defining relative clause is a clause that is necessary and cannot be cut out of the sentence.
A non–defining relative clause is a clause that can be easily removed from a sentence and the meaning of the sentence will not change.
The runner who won the marathon trained for six months. (defining relative clause)
The dress that I borrowed from my friend was too small. (defining relative clause)
The movie I was telling you about, which is now available on Netflix, is really scary. (non-defining relative clause)
“The Overstory,” which is my favorite book, has received many awards. (non-defining relative clause)
Relative pronouns are used similarly to conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet), in that they connect two clauses together.
5 Must-know English Relative Pronouns with Video Examples
The relative pronoun who is used to talk more about a person or people mentioned in the first part of the sentence.
Sally was the one who helped me find your house.
Edmund Hillary was the first person who successfully climbed Mount Everest.
Bob was the only one in the office who met all his deadlines this month.
Whom is the objective form of the word who. When someone is the object or receiver of the verb, you use the word whom, and when someone is the subject, you use who.
A simple trick to know when to use whom is to see whether you are able to replace the whom with him or her without changing the meaning of the sentence. You should use who when you can replace it with she or he instead.
Who is the painter of this painting? → She is the painter of this painting.
With whom shall I go to the party? → I will go to the party with him.
Here are some examples of how the word whom can be used as a relative pronoun:
This is Amy, whom I traveled with last summer.
My best friend, whom I have known for fifteen years, is getting married.
This pronoun is to express ownership.
Whose coat is this?
This is the woman whose dog won the dog show.
She is the artist whose paintings recently sold for a million dollars.
It can also be used to express ownership of thoughts, opinions or relationships:
George is someone whose opinions I can trust.
It was Henry whose ideas helped us solve this problem.
Lucy is the one whose son likes to play chess.
Unlike other pronouns, whose states possession. Therefore, it needs to be followed by a noun.
Which is used to highlight and further describe a noun.
As a relative pronoun it can be used in this way:
The hat, which Dave was wearing today, was new.
The local political party, which held a rally here yesterday, will likely win the election.
The new romance novel, which I bought on Sunday, was amazing!
Which is used with non–defining clauses. These clauses give you additional information, but you do not necessarily need them in a sentence to fully understand the meaning of the sentence.
You can figure out whether a clause is non-defining or defining by removing that clause in the sentence. If the meaning of the sentence remains the same, then it is non-defining. If you lose some important information, then it is defining.
My diary, which has a yellow bookmark inside it, is kept in my bag. → My diary is kept in my bag.
My cellphone, which has a pink cover on it, broke yesterday.→ My cellphone broke yesterday.
That and which are often used interchangeably in spoken English. But there are certain important differences between them.
That is used with defining clauses that are necessary in a sentence. They give important information that cannot be left out.
The music that John listens to is very good.
The accident that happened yesterday was horrible.
Can you ask for a pizza that is made without wheat?
2 Adverbs That Are Sometimes Used as Relative Pronouns
Where is usually used as an adverb in relation to location.
Where are we going for the picnic today?
Where is Nancy?
Where is the Great Pyramid of Giza?
As a relative pronoun, where can be used to give additional information in a sentence.
My mother loves that place where they sell blue cotton candy.
Bob likes cafes where there are tables outside.
When is used as an adverb with time.
When is your birthday?
When is the last date to submit our assignment?
When can also be used as a relative pronoun.
I remember a time when we did not have a computer in our house.
My parents met for the first time when they were working in the same company.
My dog got really scared when it heard a loud bang in the kitchen.
5 YouTube Videos to Reinforce English Relative Pronouns
Defining and Non-defining Relative Clauses (Oxford English Now)
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Description: The teacher in this video talks all about relative pronouns and how they are used differently depending on whether they are part of a defining or non-defining clause.
The video uses plenty of visual tools and example sentences to show both the correct and incorrect usage of relative pronouns and clauses.
This video lesson also includes a few sections where the teacher talks about the difference between formal and informal English.
Remember, a defining relative clause cannot be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning of a sentence. Whereas a non-defining relative clause can be easily removed from the sentence with little to no effect.
The dog that has the spots on its face is very friendly. (defining relative clause)
My cousin, who is older than me, is a great soccer player. (non-defining relative clause)
Relative Clauses in 4 Steps (Insight to English)
Description: This video is structured as a conversation between a student and a teacher.
They talk about all the basic concepts and terms related to relative clauses. Following the lesson, which will help reinforce what you learned above in this post, you will be treated to a step-by-step guide on how to make a sentence with a relative clause.
The four basic steps to create a sentence that includes a relative clause are as follows:
1. Identify the common noun in the two sentences that you want to combine.
I got tickets to see David Sedaris. David Sedaris is a very funny and talented writer.
2. Decide which clause is going to be the relative clause. Remember, a relative clause gives additional or added information.
David Sedaris is a very funny and talented writer.
3. Delete the shared noun that will become the relative clause.
is a very funny and talented writer
4. Add a relative pronoun after the main clause and then connect the main clause to the relative clause.
I got tickets to see David Sedaris, who is a very funny and talented writer.
Note: The relative clause should be placed closest to the noun that it is providing more information about.
Who, Whom, Whose (Tea with Marina)
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Description: This lesson explains the difference between the relative pronouns who, whom and whose.
Along with the easy-to-follow notes on the screen, the lesson also has a quick quiz at the end that you can use to practice what you have learned.
This video lesson offers an effective review of these three relative pronouns.
A quick breakdown of the difference between the three is as follow:
Who is used to refer to the doer of an action.
The employee who was late to the meeting was given a warning by his boss.
Whom is used to refer to the object of the sentence who receives the action.
The doctor whom I interviewed about heart disease for my research paper is an expert in heart health.
Whose is used when referring to possession.
The little girl whose cat we found in our tree was thankful that we called her.
Stop Making Mistakes with Relative Clauses! [Which & That] (mmmenglish!)
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Description: If you need a little more help with that and which, this is the video for you!
This very clear and to the point lesson will clarify any confusion you might have regarding these two relative pronouns. At the end of the video, there is also a short quiz to test your understanding of the lesson and rules related to these two small words.
The two basic rules for whether to use that or which are as follows:
1. That can only be used with defining clauses.
The Earth is the only planet in our solar system that supports life.
2. Which is only used with non-defining clauses.
The Earth, which is the third planet from the sun, supports a great diversity (variety) of life.
Relative Clauses: The Grammar Gameshow
Description: This entertaining and educational game show is an excellent resource to review and practice what you learned about relative pronouns today. There is a funny host and two players. The format of the game is fill-in-the-blank. The players (including you) need to come up with the correct relative pronoun to complete each sentence.
While the other YouTube videos are mostly focused on teaching and reinforcing English relative pronouns, this last resource gives you the chance to put what you learned to the test.
Phew! So that is it—everything you need to know about relative pronouns!
With some studying and practice, these little words will become a big part of your everyday English in no time!