relative pronoun

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one of the pronouns who, whom, which, what, their compounds with -ever or -soever, or that used as the subordinating word to introduce a subordinate clause, especially such a pronoun referring to an antecedent.
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Origin of relative pronoun

First recorded in 1520–30

words often confused with relative pronoun

See who.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a relative pronoun?

A relative pronoun is one of several pronouns and is used to introduce a dependent clause. The most common relative pronouns are who, whom, which, and that.

In grammar, a pronoun is a word that substitutes for a noun or a noun phrase, as when you use I to refer to yourself, as in I like studying grammar. A dependent clause contains a subject and a predicate but does not contain a complete thought and can’t be used by itself. It depends on another clause to make sense, as in which I like.

Relative pronouns often occur at the beginning of a dependent clause, as in I found a man who looks like Elvis. Who and whom are used to refer to people and sometimes animals with names, as in Shamu was a beloved whale who entertained millions.

Which is used to refer to things or animals, as in We boarded the bus, which was covered in stickers.

That is used to refer to people, animals, or things, as in She is the artist that painted the picture.

Why are relative pronouns important?

The first records of the term relative pronoun come from around 1520. It combines the words relative, meaning “something having a connection to something else,” and pronoun, meaning, “a word used to as a substitute for a noun or noun phrase.”

Relative pronouns help us connect a dependent clause to an independent one. For example, in Jill recycled the newspapers that she had read, the dependent clause that she had read refers to the newspapers, mentioned earlier in the sentence. That connects newspapers with more information about them. These are the newspapers Jill has read, not the ones she hasn’t read.

Did you know ... ?

Who replaces a person’s name when it is used as a subject or the pronouns I, you, he, she, we, and they. Whom replaces a person’s name when it is used as an object or the pronouns me, you, him, her, us, and them. However, people struggle with when to use who and whom and often just use who in all cases.

What are real-life examples of relative pronouns?

This chart lists some common relative pronouns and the kinds of words they refer to.

Who People and named animals
Whom People
Which Things
That People, animals, or things

We use relative pronouns all the time in English.

What other words are related to relative pronoun?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT a relative pronoun?

A. who
B. that
C. because
D. which

How to use relative pronoun in a sentence