What Does A Relative Pronoun Do In A Sentence?

Subordinate clauses often begin with relative pronouns. Within a subordinate clause the relative pronoun may serve as the subject or object of the verb, or the object of the preposition.

Study the following examples carefully.

Relative pronoun as subject

  • I saw a beggar who was deaf and dumb.
  • The trees that grew in the garden were cut down for fire-wood.

Relative pronoun as object

  • There I met an old man whom my father knew.
  • The snake, which we could not kill, crept into a hole.

Grammar notes: When a relative pronoun is used as the object, it will be immediately followed by another noun. In the above examples, my father is the subject of the clause ‘whom my father knew’ whereas ‘whom’ is the object of the relative clause; we is the subject of the clause ‘which we could not kill’ and ‘which’ is the object.

As the object of a preposition

  • The man, to whom I owned money, demanded immediate payment.
  • I need a room in which I can stay.

Grammar notes: When the relative pronoun is the object of a preposition, we can put the preposition at the end of the clause, but then the relative pronoun is usually dropped.

  • The man I owed money to demanded immediate payment. (Whom is omitted.)

Forms of the relative pronouns

Read the following sentences:

  • Here is a boy who is good at painting.
  • I know a man whose son lives abroad.
  • He is an actor whom many admire.

The relative pronoun who has three forms: who, whom and whose.

Who is used in the nominative case. It can be used to denote both singular and plural nouns. Whom is used in the objective case. Whose is used in the possessive case.


The relative pronoun which is used to refer to animals and things.

  • This is the car which belongs to my grand father. (The relative pronoun which is the subject of the clause which belongs to my grand father.)
  • This is the car which I bought. (The relative pronoun which is the object of the clause which I bought.)

You will have noticed that which remains unchanged in the nominative (subject form) case and objective (object form) case. It has no possessive case.

The relative pronouns that, what, as and but have the same form in all cases.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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