Relative Pronouns: Definition and Examples

Before getting into how to use relative pronouns, it’s important to have a solid definition of what they are. 

A relative pronoun is used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun. The clause modifies or describes the noun. 

The most common relative pronouns are whowhomwhosewhich, and that. Sometimes, why, when and where can be used as relative pronouns as well in informal language, to introduce defining relative clauses instead of at whichon which or for which.

Here is a list of common relative pronouns in English with example sentences to help you master your English grammar ⬇️⬇️

Relative pronouns are placed directly after the noun or pronoun they modify. The subject of the sentence is described by a relative clause (italicized). Since these clauses describe a noun or a pronoun, they are also known as adjective clauses because they act like adjectives in the sentence. Relative pronouns connect the description to the rest of the sentence in an orderly way.

  • It took me a while to get used to people who eat popcorn during the movie.
  • The children, whom we love dearly, need better educational systems.
  • The book whose author won a Pulitzer has become a bestseller.
  • The book, which is now out of print, has all the information you need.
  • This is the house that had a great Christmas decoration.

As a relative pronoun, when introduces clauses that describe a noun that refers to a time, where refers to a place and why refers to reasons.

  • She remembered the day when they met.
  • The office where I work is in this building. 
  • Do you know the reason why the shop is closed today?

Common Mistakes

One of the most common mistakes in writing is to use the wrong relative pronoun, particularly when it comes to mixing up who and thatWho is always used to set up a relative clause that describes a person, while that is used to describe an object or non-human things.

  • The woman, who is very old, took a nap.
  • I like the dog that does tricks.

Another common error is to mix up that and which. When describing objects and non-human beings, that is used to introduce a defining relative clause (essential information and requires no additional punctuation), while which is used to introduce a non-defining clause (non-essential information set off by commas).

  • The phone, which was ringing, was in my bedroom.
  • The cat that is very old needs to see the vet today.

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