English Grammar Review
Nouns and Pronouns

Relative Pronouns

The relative pronoun gets its name from being a pronoun used in a relative clause.

A clause is a set of words that contains a subject and a verb. A relative clause is related to a word in the main clause.

Example: The employees who signed up were from Greece.

Main clause: The employees were from Greece.

Relative clause: who signed up

In this example, the relative pronoun, who, has three duties:

(1) It acts as the subject in the relative clause.

(2) It serves as a pronoun that stands for the subject in the main clause.

(3) It conceptually links the relative clause to the subject in the main clause, providing extra information about the subject.

The main complication with the relative pronoun who is that sometimes the first duty is different:

(1) It acts as the object in the relative clause.

In this case, whom is used instead of who. Why? Because it keeps things clear.

Rule 1a: Use who if he, she, they, I, or we sounds right as a substitute for the pronoun in the relative clause.

The employees who signed up were from Greece. (They signed up.)

Rule 1b: Use whom if him, her, them, me, or us sounds right as a substitute for the pronoun in the relative clause.

The man to whom I was referring is Giorgos Demetriou. (I was referring to him.)

There are a few more rules for relative pronouns that should guide your writing.

Rule 2: When referring to people, use who.

Mr. Papadopoulos is the only employee who can speak Mandarin.

Rule 2a: When referring to a type of person, you can use that.

Kostas is the kind of scientist that documents his observations in detail.

Rule 3: When referring to things, use which or that.

Cassia's report, which is attached, explains our strategy.

The complaint that we received will be addressed.

Rule 3a: When referring to the people in an organization, you can use who.

I enjoy working with the people in their Athens office. They are a dedicated group who solve my problems for me.

Rule 4: When it sounds okay, you can omit a relative pronoun.

The man (whom) we hired is late again.

Is that the proposal (that) I read yesterday?

Note: Be vigilent in spotting the incorrect use of who's for whose and vice versa. The word who's is a contraction meaning who is or who has. The word whose is the possessive form of who.

Who's email was that? [bad]

Whose email was that? [good]

Whose the best qualified person for the job? [bad]

Who's the best qualified person for the job? [good]

Lesson: Relative Pronouns
Module: Nouns and Pronouns
Course: English Grammar Review