Relative Pronoun

Definition: We use the relative pronouns to refer to a noun mentioned before and of which we are adding more information. They are used to join two or more sentences and forming in that way what we call "relative sentences".

Relative pronouns
Who, Whom, That, Which
whoever, whomever, whichever

For example:

  • People who speak two languages are called bilingual.
    * In this example, the relative "who" introduces the relative sentence "speak two languages" that describes or gives more information about the noun "people".

Relative pronouns: Subject or Object
As the relative pronouns relate to another noun preceding it in the sentence, they connect a dependent clause to an antecedent (a noun that precedes the pronoun.) Therefore, relative pronouns acts as the subject or object of the dependent clause.

For example:

  • The chef who won the competition studied in Paris.
    * Here, "who" relates back to (or is relative to) the noun "Chef". "Who" also acts as the subject of the dependent clause and the verb "won".
    => The dependent clause: who won the competition.
    => The independent clause: The chef studied in Paris.

  • The shirt that Carl bought has a stain on the pocket.
    * Here, "that" relates back to (or is relative to) the noun "shirt". "That" is also the object of the verb "bought".
    => The dependent clause is: that Carl bought.
    => The independent clause: The shirt has a stain on the pocket.

Referring to people: Who, Whom, Whoever, Whomever
These pronouns take a different case depending on whether the relative pronoun is a subject or an object in the dependent clause.

  1. Subjective case
    Use the subjective case when these relative pronouns are the subject (initiating the action) of the dependent clause: Who, Whoever

    For example:

    • Negotiations were not going smoothly between the two leaders, who made no bones about not liking each other.
      * "Who" relates back to the noun "leaders" and is the subject of the dependent clause and the verb "made".
    • Most workers, whoever was not employed by the auto manufacturer, toiled at one of the millions of little minnow companies.
      * "Whoever" relates back to the noun "workers" and is the subject of the dependent clause and the verb "was employed".

  2. Objective case
    Use the objective case when these relative pronouns are the object (receiving the action) of the dependent clause: Whom, Whomever

    For example:

    • This is the approach taken by journalists, whom some consider to be objective.
      * "Whom" relates back to the noun "journalists" and is the object of the verb "consider". The subject of the dependent clause is "some".

    • The three representatives, whomever the committee chooses, should be at the meeting tomorrow.
      * "Whomever" relates back to the noun representatives and is the object of the verb "chooses". The subject of the dependent clause is "Committee".

Referring to a place, thing or idea: Which, That
When using relative pronouns for places, things or ideas, rather than determining case, the writer must decide whether the information in the dependent clause is essential to the meaning of the independent clause or simply additional information.

When information is critical to the understanding of the main clause, use That as the appropriate relative pronoun and do not set the information off by commas.

For example:

  • Russian generals have delivered a message that is difficult to ignore.
    * "That" relates back to the noun "message" and is necessary for the reader to know what "message" the sentence is about.

  • There is another factor that obviously boosts the reputation of both of these men.
    * "That" relates back to the noun "factor" and is necessary for the reader to know what "factor" the sentence is about.

When information is not critical to the understanding of the main clause, use "Which" as the appropriate relative pronoun and set the information off by commas.

For example:

  • The toughest intramural fight of all for Clinton was the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he undertook a full year before the 1994 election.
    * "Which" relates back to the noun "agreement" and the information following it is not necessary for the reader to know what "agreement" the sentence is about.

  • Clinton refused to head toward the center on affirmative action and abortion, which are the two most sacred issues to the traditional liberal wing of the party.
    * "Wich" relates back to the noun "affirmative action and abortion" and the information following it is not necessary for the reader to know what "affirmative action and abortion" the sentence is about.

When referring to more than one place, thing or idea use these relative pronouns: Whatever, Whichever

For example:

  • The three approaches, whichever works is fine, produce a more ambiguous picture of a man.
    * "Whichever" relates to the noun "approaches" and the information contained within the commas is additional, not critical information.

  • Any excessive profits, whatever exceeded accepted limits, would attract the notice of representatives.
    * "Whatever" relates to the noun "profits" and the information contained within the commas is additional, not critical information.



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