How to form relative clauses


As the name suggests, these clauses give essential information to define or identify the person or thing we are talking about. Obviously, this is only necessary if there is more than one person or thing involved.


  • Dogs that like cats are very unusual.

In this sentence we understand that there are many dogs, but it is clear that we are only talking about the ones that like cats.


  •  Commas are not used in defining relative clauses.

Relative pronouns

The following relative pronouns are used in defining relative clauses:

  Person Thing Place Time Reason
Subject who/that which/that      
Object who/whom/that/ which/that/ where when why
Possessive whose whose      


  1. The relative pronoun stands in place of a noun.

This noun usually appears earlier in the sentence:

The woman who/that spoke at the meeting was very knowledgeable.
Noun, subject of
main clause
relative pronoun referring to ‘the woman’, subject of ‘spoke’ verb + rest of relative clause verb + rest of main clause
  1. Who, whom and which can be replaced by that. This is very common in spoken English.
  2. The relative pronoun can be omittedwhen it is the object of the clause
The woman that the man loved was living in New York.
Noun, subject of main clause relative pronoun, referring to ‘the woman’, object of ‘loved’ verb + rest of relative clause verb + rest of main clause.

(You can usually decide whether a relative pronoun is an object because it is normally followed by another subject + verb.)

4. Whose is used for things as well as for people.


  • The man whose car was stolen.
  •  A tree whose leaves have fallen.

5. Whom is very formal and is only used in written English. You can use who/that, or omit the pronoun completely :

  • The doctor whom/who/that/ I was hoping to see wasn’t on duty.

6. That normally follows words like something, anything, everything, nothing, all, and superlatives.


  • There’s something that you should know.
  • It was the best film that I’ve ever seen.
  • A clown is someone who makes you laugh.
  • An elephant is an animal that lives in hot countries.
  • The plums that were in the fridge were delicious. I have eaten them.
  • Where are the plums (that) I put in the fridge?
  • Has anyone seen the book I was reading?
  • Nothing that anyone does can replace my lost bag.
  • Let’s go to a country where the sun always shines.
  • They live in the house whose roof is full of holes.