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Rules Relating to Relative Pronoun

Published on Monday, May 21, 2018
Rules Relating to Relative Pronoun


Who is used as the subject of a verb, whom is used as the object of a verb or the object of a preposition, and whose is used as an adjective denoting possession. The relative pronouns who, whom and whose generally refer only to persons, and are used either in defining or non-defining
relative clauses. Who refers to the subject of the sentence, whom refers to the object of a verb or a preposition, while whose refers the possession and it is used as adjective.

1. Who

  • The child, who secures the highest marks will receive a trophy.
  • My brother, who is learning Punjabi, wants to travel to Punjab.
In the above examples, who has the antecedents’ child and brother, and acts as the subject of the verbs secures and is learning.

2. Whom

  • The girl, whom we visited is her sister. (Antecedent : girl)
  • John, whom we will meet tomorrow, will be our guide. ( Antecedent: John)
  • The girl, to whom you gave your umbrella lives near my house. (Antecedent : girl)
  • His aunt, to whom we send a birthday card every year, is eighty years old now. (Antecedent : aunt)
In the above examples, ‘to’ acts as object of preposition.

3. Whose

  • The man, whose house was sold will leave this town. (Antecedent : man)
  • My brother, whose family lives in America, will visit us for few days. (Antecedent : brother)
Antecedents modifies the nouns after the relative pronoun. Here the noun house is modified according to man. Similarly, family is modified according to brother.

Note: In case of whose, it should be noted that if it the antecedent which must be a person; the noun being modified may be a person or a thing.


As a relative pronoun that can refer to either persons or things. The relative pronoun that is generally used only in defining relative clauses. 
  • The girls that were here yesterday will return in a week.
  • The bag that was on the steps belongs to our tenant.
In these examples, that has the antecedents girls and bag, and introduces the defining relative clauses that were here yesterday and that was on the steps. Here that acts as the subject of the verbs were and was.


1. That can be used for living and non-living nouns, for singular as well as plurals. 
  • I have lost the book that you gave me.
  • He that is content is happy.
2. No preposition is used before that, if any preposition is required to be used, it is used in the ending position. 
  • We know that the hotel she lives in.
  • This is the lady that I told you about.
3. In a sentence after the following words that is generally used: All, any, anybody, anything, much, nothing, little, somebody, no one, none, then the rule is the same +noun +that, the only+ noun +that etc. 
  • All that glitters is not gold.
  • There was none that didn’t support the cause.
4. After interrogative pronoun-‘who’ and ‘what’, that is used. 
  • What is it that you can’t solve?
  • Who was there that you were talking with?


When used as a relative pronoun, which refers only to things, when used as an adjective or interrogative pronoun, which can refer to either persons or things. 
  • The book which I purchased last week is very useful.
  • The chocolate which I ate yesterday was tasty.

Preferring ‘that’ to ‘who’ or which

1. That is preferably used after Superlative degree instead of who or which
Eg: He is the most eloquent speaker that I have ever heard.

2. After two antecedents one referring a person and the other referring an animal or a thing, use that, instead of who or which. 
Eg: The boy and his dog that entered the temple were caught by the people.

3. After ‘same’ or ‘such’ use ‘as’ or ‘that’ not ‘who’ or ‘which’. 
Eg: This is the same fellow that came yesterday also.


Relative pronouns what is used without antecedents. When used as relative pronoun, what has the meaning-the thing or things that.
  • What you say is not true.
  • What matters more is honesty.


1. The antecedent of a relative pronoun should not be in possessive case. 
  • These are chairman’s instructions that must be followed. –Incorrect
  • These are the instructions of the chairman that must be followed-Correct
2. The relative pronoun should be of same number and person as its antecedent. It means the verb should agree with the number and person of the antecedent. 
  • The girl who was late was fined.
  • The girls who were late were fined.

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