Relative pronouns play the part of subject or object in clauses:
- Mr. and Mrs. Lopez, who adopt tortoises, enjoy their pets. (subject)
- I thought the water, which I had been drinking, was polluted. (object)
- John Philip Sousa, who composed much American band music, invented the sousaphone. (subject)
- The sousaphone, with which he played a march, had an adjustable bell. (object)
- John Francis Mercer, who represented Maryland at the Constitutional Convention, returned home disgruntled.
- The citizens, with whom we may identify, were not regarded as capable of voting intelligently.
Relative pronouns often refer to nouns that have preceded them, making the sentence more compact.
Mrs. Wong cares for two patients, and the patients came from New Zealand.
Mrs. Wong cares for two patients, who came from New Zealand.
John Philip Sousa wrote distinctly American marches; these marches were brilliant and stirring.
John Philip Sousa wrote distinctly American marches that were brilliant and stirring.
Beside his driveway, Bob planted day lilies full of colossal blooms; these colossal blooms were vivid but ephemeral.
Beside his driveway, Bob planted day lilies full of colossal blooms that were vivid but ephemeral.
Simple Relative Pronouns
The following are simple relative pronouns:
who, whom, whose, what, which, that
WHO REFERS TO PEOPLE (OR TO ANIMALS THAT ARE PERSONIFIED OR "NAMED"):
- The girl who lives next door smiled at me.
- I have a cat who can climb a block wall.
- John Philip Sousa, who is known as the "march king," wrote "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
- My finch Cheep, who lives in the kitchen, chirps at the beep of the microwave.
- John Mercer, who was reluctant to allow direct voting by all people, wanted to restrict suffrage.
- My cat Bingo Bailey, who sleeps at the foot of my bed, chases mice during the night.
WHICH REFERS TO ANIMALS OR THINGS, BUT NOT PEOPLE:
- The bird, which had already eaten, still clung to the feeder.
- She frowns at the car, which hasn't been washed in weeks.
- Stalactites, which are accumulated carbon carbonate, can be enormous in size and beautiful in appearance.
- The possum, which had lost its way, wandered among the stalagmites and stalactites.
- Voting, which was a point of contention at the Constitutional Convention, was settled by the Electoral College.
- The elephant, which symbolizes the Republican Party, often appears in the editorial section of the newspaper.
THAT REFERS TO PEOPLE, ANIMALS, OR THINGS:
- He is the kind of person that everyone loves.
- The cow that escaped belongs to my uncle.
- The noise that I heard last night was a possum.
- The most notable Russian that influenced world affairs after World War II was Joseph Stalin.
- There's the dog that won Best In Show.
- Games that are fun when you are six aren't always fun when you are eight.
- The ladies that manage this department have gone home sick.
- The animal that represents the Democratic Party is the donkey.
- The twenty speeches that John Francis Mercer delivered seemed contentious and negative.
Remember that we do not use the which for people.
Choose the correct relative pronouns for each sentence.
- The woman (who, which) lives on the corner has a goat.
- The tree, (who, which) had been leaning for years, finally fell down.
- There is the artist (which, that) I told you about.
- The popular congressman, (who, which) was running for re-election, began his speech with a joke.
- The works of Gertrude Stein, (who, which) experiment with the different uses of language, make her a celebrated American writer.
- The woman (which, that) influenced such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and Thronton Wilder was Gertrude Stein.
- John Mercer, (who, which) spoke with passion during the convention, left outraged after eleven days.
- Thomas Jefferson's thoughts, (who, which) reflected the opinions of many, labeled John Mercer as vain and ambitious.
- The man (which, that) John Mercer vehemently opposed was Alexander Hamilton.
- We choose who because it refers to "woman," a person. We do not use which for people.
- We choose which because it refers to "tree," a thing. We do not use who for things.
- We choose that because it refers to "artist," a person. We do not use which for people.
- We choose who because it refers to "congressman," a person. We do not use which for people.
- We choose which because it refers to "works," a thing. We do not use who for things.
- We choose that because it refers to "woman," a person. We do not use which for people.
- We choose who because it refers to "John Mercer," a person. We do not use which for people.
- We choose which because it refers to "thoughts," a thing. We do not use who for things.
- We choose that because it refers to "man," a person. We do not use which for people.
Errors to Avoid
The relative pronoun who can cause problems, because it changes form depending on the part it plays in the clause:
In the sentences below, we diagram the dependent clause to show how the relative pronoun is used.
Mrs. Cruz, who is my friend, will call today.
Mrs. Cruz, whom you met, will call today.
Mrs. Cruz, whose friendship I value, will call today.
Compound Relative Pronouns
The following are compound relative pronouns:
whoever, whomever, whosoever
whatever, whatsoever, whichever
- He may choose whichever color he wants.
- Whatever you do, be there on time.
Notice that we carefully choose whoever or whomever depending on the part the compound relative pronoun plays in the clause.
- You may invite whomever you want. (object)
- Whoever is hungry may come for snacks. (subject)
Choose the correct compound relative pronoun for this sentence:
(Whoever, Whomever) wants a seat should arrive early.
Whoever wants a seat should arrive early. The relative pronoun is the subject, so the proper form is who(ever).