The Power of Relative Pronouns: Building Bridges in Sentences

Hey there! Have you ever read a sentence and wondered how some parts of it are so neatly tied together? Or maybe you’re writing a story or an email and you want to make your sentences flow better without repeating the same names or things over and over.

Well, my friend, let me introduce you to the handy helpers in the world of writing called Relative Pronouns! Let’s dive in!

Relative pronouns are special words in sentences because they do two jobs at once: they stand in for nouns (like he, she, it), and they link parts of sentences together.

Imagine you’re at a party and you’re telling a friend about someone you both know. You wouldn’t just say their name and stop, right? You’d naturally add more information to make the story interesting.

In writing, relative pronouns help us do just that—they connect bits of a sentence to give us more detail. Think of them as the bridges that add spice and everything nice to our sentences.

An Example of Relative Pronouns

Let’s look at an example to make this clear:

♦ This is the firefighter, and she saved my life
♦ This is the firefighter who saved my life.

Both sentences are talking about the same thing, but they’re put together differently.

♦ In sentence 1, we use and to connect two separate pieces (This is the firefighter and she saved my life). The word she is used to refer back to the firefighter, and it’s the subject of the second part.
♦ In sentence 2, there’s no and. Instead, we have who taking the place of and she. Here, who is doing double duty: it’s referring back to the firefighter (just like she did) and it’s also connecting the two parts of the sentence together. This makes who a relative pronoun.

So, relative pronouns are cool because they replace a noun and connect sentence parts, making things smoother.

Now, let’s dive deeper:

♦ Sentence 1 has two parts that are equal and could stand on their own. It’s like saying, Here’s one fact, and here’s another. This kind of sentence is called compound.
♦ Sentence 2 is different. The part who saved my life gives us extra info about the firefighter and can’t stand alone. It’s attached to the main idea, making the sentence complex. The word who links this extra info to the firefighter.

Relative pronouns help us connect these extra details to the main part of the sentence by ‘referring back’ to a specific noun mentioned earlier, which we call the antecedent. For instance, firefighter is the antecedent of who.

The term relative in relative pronouns means they relate or refer back to something mentioned before in the sentence. That’s why they’re named that way—they take your mind back to something (the antecedent) you already talked about.

Simple Relative Pronouns

There are a few simple relative pronouns: who, whom, whose, which, and that. Let’s meet the team, shall we?

Who

Use who when talking about people. Who can change form depending on its role in the sentence. In the example below; who tells us more about the writer.

♦ The writer who inspires me lives in New York.

Whom

Also refers to people, but it’s used in a more formal sense or when someone is the object of the sentence (someone is receiving an action).

♦ The artist whom we met paints with coffee.

It’s like who, but a bit more dressed up.

Whose

Shows possession. Pick whose when showing who something belongs to.

♦ The cat whose toy was stolen looked sad.

Here, whose tells us the toy belongs to the cat.

Which

Which refers to animals, things, or ideas. The form changes depending on its role in the sentence. In the example below which gives us the scoop on the book.

♦ The book, which I borrowed from the library, is thrilling.

That

That can refer to people, things, animals, or ideas. It’s a bit of an all-rounder because it is flexible—it can fit in many places!

♦ The cookies that Grandma makes are delicious.

That is here to tell us more about those yummy cookies.

What

The word “what” is like a shorter version of “that which.” It’s like it’s doing two things at once: talking about something and describing it.

♦ What was said is true.
♦ Akita always remembers what is said to her.
♦ Marge always remembers what he learns.

In the first sentence, what means that which. It acts like the subject of both parts of the sentence: it’s what was being said, and it’s what is true.

In the second sentence, what is like saying that which. It’s the thing that Akita remembers (object of “remembers”), and it’s also the thing being said (subject of “is said”).

In the third sentence, what works as the object for both remembers and learns. It’s the thing Marge remembers, and it’s also what he learns.

As

As can be a relative pronoun when such is in the main clause.

♦ I have never seen such strawberries as these.
♦ Use such powers as you have.

 As is often used as a relative after the same.

♦ This color is the same as that [is].

Same

You can also use other relative pronouns after the same.

♦ This is the same book that (or which) you were reading yesterday.
♦ This is the same man that (or whom) I saw on the pier last Friday.

As can be a relative pronoun when such is in the main clause.

Singular and Plural

Who and which change form in the same way, whether you’re talking about just one (singular) or more than one (plural).

Nominative (subject): who, which (Example: Who called? or Which is yours?)
Possessive (shows ownership): whose, whose (Example: Whose book is this?)
Objective (object): whom, which (Example: Whom did you see? or Which did you choose?)

That, as, and what stay the same; they don’t change their form whether they’re the subject or object and don’t have a possessive form.

Agreement

A relative pronoun needs to match the gender, number, and person of the word it refers to (the antecedent).

Even though relative pronouns look the same whether you’re talking about one thing (singular) or many things (plural), and no matter who’s involved (first, second, or third person), you figure out their number and person by looking at the antecedent. Examples:

♦ I am wrong. (Here, I is the antecedent, which is first person and singular.)
♦ You may go if you are ready. (Here, you is the antecedent, which is second person and plural.)
♦ Give help to him who needs it. (Here, him is the antecedent, which is third person and singular.)
♦ The road that leads to the shore is sandy. (Here, road is the antecedent, which is third person and singular.)
♦ The roads that lead to the shore are sandy. (Here, roads is the antecedent, which is third person and plural.)

It’s super important to match the pronoun to its antecedent in number and person, especially when it’s the subject of the sentence, because the verb form depends on that. This rule comes in handy.

Number and Person

The case of a relative pronoun (whether it’s the subject, object, etc.) depends on its role in its own clause, not on the antecedent. For example:

♦ The intern who opened the door wore a uniform. (Who is the subject of opened, so it’s in the nominative case.)
♦ He fired his intern, who immediately left town. (Who is still in the nominative case because it’s the subject of left, even though intern is the object of fired.)
♦ The intern whom you fired has returned. (Whom is the object of fired, so it’s in the objective case, while intern is the subject of has returned, making it nominative.)

The Objective Case

Often, when a relative pronoun is the object of a sentence, we don’t say it out loud or write it down. Here’s how it works:

♦ Instead of saying Here is the book which you wanted, we just say Here is the book you wanted.
♦ Instead of The noise that I heard was the wind, it’s simpler to say The noise I heard was the wind.
The person whom I met was a carpenter easily becomes The person I met was a carpenter.

Gender

Who can refer to people regardless of gender; which and what are used for objects, concepts, or animals; that and as can be used universally, covering all categories, including any gender identity.

♦ All who heard, agreed.
♦ Here is the soldier whose story interested you.
♦ The first woman whom I saw was Maia.
♦ I saw nobody that I knew.

Gender Related Words

Which
We usually use which for animals unless we think of them almost like people. (I think pets are people.) Even if we sometimes call an animal he or she, we still use which:

♦ This is the dog which I mentioned. Isn’t he a fine fellow?
♦ We have one cow which we prize highly. She is a Jersey.

Whose
Whose can describe anything alive, showing it owns something.

♦ This is the man whose watch was stolen.
♦ I have a cat whose name is Tabby.
♦ This is the dead tree whose leaves were eaten.

You can use of which or whose for objects that aren’t alive. Of which is more common in writing, but whose sounds better to many, so it’s used a lot, especially in poems.

♦ A broad river, the name of which I have forgotten, forms the northern boundary of the province.
♦ Jack was fishing with a bamboo rod, to the end of which he had tied a short piece of ordinary twine.
♦ She was gazing into the pool, whose calm surface reflected her features like a mirror sounds better than using of which.

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Exercises for Using Relative Pronouns

Take a few moments and replace the blanks with the correct relative pronouns.

  1. The woman ________ bought the house is a doctor.
  2. That’s the boy ________ bicycle was stolen.
  3. I don’t know the person ________ you’re referring to.
  4. This is the teacher ________ inspires me the most.
  5. She adopted the cat ________ was abandoned.
  6. The artist ________ paintings are famous died long ago.
  7. The car, ________ I had just fixed, broke down again.
  8. The company ________ he works for is very successful.
  9. The emails ________ were sent yesterday have disappeared.
  10. The story ________ she told us was unbelievable.
  11. The flowers ________ grow in my garden are very fragrant.
  12. The students ________ study hard will pass the exam.
  13. The man ________ called yesterday left no message.
  14. The dog ________ we adopted is very friendly.
  15. The tree ________ branches were damaged in the storm has been cut down.
Click on the + button for the answers
  1. The woman who bought the house is a doctor.
  2. That’s the boy whose bicycle was stolen.
  3. I don’t know the person whom/who you’re referring to.
  4. This is the teacher who inspires me the most.
  5. She adopted the cat that was abandoned.
  6. The artist whose paintings are famous died long ago.
  7. The car, which I had just fixed, broke down again.
  8. The company that he works for is very successful.
  9. The emails that were sent yesterday have disappeared.
  10. The story that she told us was unbelievable.
  11. The flowers that grow in my garden are very fragrant.
  12. The students who study hard will pass the exam.
  13. The man who called yesterday left no message.
  14. The dog that we adopted is very friendly.
  15. The tree whose branches were damaged in the storm has been cut dow

10 Tips for Relative Pronouns

1. Know the Common Ones: Familiarize yourself with who, whom, whose, which, that, and sometimes where and when.
2. Use Who for People: When referring to people, use who (e.g., The person who called).
3. Whom for Objects or Receivers: Use whom when talking about someone as an object of a verb or preposition (e.g., The person to whom I spoke).
4. Which for Things and Animals: Use which for non-human nouns (e.g., The book which I read).
5. That Can Be Versatile: That can refer to people, animals, and things, especially in restrictive clauses (e.g., The book that I love).

6. Whose Shows Possession: It can refer to people and things (e.g., The artist whose painting won).
7. Avoid Double Subjects: Don’t repeat the subject after using a relative pronoun (e.g., Not The teacher she who taught us but The teacher who taught us).
8. No Double Conjunctions: Avoid using that after and, but, or, than, or when (e.g., Not The time when that I arrived but The time when I arrived).
9. Subject-Verb Agreement: Ensure the verb agrees in number with the antecedent, not the relative pronoun (e.g., The players who win get a prize).
10 That for Specific Things: Use that for specific items out of a general category (e.g., I need a pen that works).

Last Words on Relative Pronouns

And there you have it, the secret ingredients to make your sentences flow and sparkle with details! Remember, it takes a bit of practice to get it just right.

So, keep experimenting with these Relative Pronouns in your writing, and soon, you’ll be crafting sentences that are not only clear but also engaging. Got any sentences you’ve created or questions? Drop them in the comments—I’d love to hear from you!

Happy writing!

Linda

 

Feature Image by Image by 51581 from Pixabay.

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