Many sentences in the English language are really two clauses linked together. There can be a main clause and a relative clause. Look at these two sentences.
This is a cake. Mary baked this cake.
We can do a little tweaking and turn the clauses into one sentence. Like this:
This is the cake that Mary baked.
The clause that Mary baked is called a relative clause and it’s linked to the main clause by a special kind of pronoun. That special pronoun is known as a relative pronoun.
What Are Relative Pronouns?
Relative pronouns are used to link a relative clause to another part of a sentence and has the job of introducing the relative clause. We use the term “relative” pronoun because it “relates” to the word it is modifying. Clever right?
Here is the list. The relative pronouns are that, which, whom, who, whoever, whomever and whichever. One aspect of grammar that seems to cause a lot of confusion is when to use who and when to use whom. Let’s clear that up right now, shall we? Use the relative pronouns who and whoever if you are referring to the subject of the sentence. Use whom and whomever if you’re referring to the objects of a verb or preposition. Have questions?
Relative Pronoun Examples:
When it was time for the school play, the teacher asked the students whom she believed to be the most reliable and talented to audition.
In this sentence whom is the direct object of the verb believed and also introduces the clause whom she believed to be the most reliable and talented. This clause modifies the noun students.
The person who draws the winning number hits the jackpot.
Here the relative pronoun who is the subject of the verb draws and also introduces the clause draws the winning number. In this case the clause acts as an adjective modifying the word person.
Here are more examples of relative pronouns and how they are used:
Whoever spilled milk will have to clean it up.
In this sentence whoever acts as the subject of the verb spilled.
The fruit which was put in the fruit bowl needs to be put in the picnic basket.
Here which functions as the subject of the compound verb was put. It also introduces the defining clause which was put in the fruit bowl. The clause acts as an adjective and modifies the noun fruit.
I will open whichever package arrives first.
In this example whichever modifies the noun package and introduces the clause whichever package arrives first. The clause also functions as the direct object of the compound verb will open.
The manuscript that she recently completed is ready for publication.
The world is a much sunnier place for people who have a positive attitude.
The person who called me last night is my best friend.
When using non-defining relative clauses make sure you use commas at the beginning and end of the clause.
Katie, who is very kind, is my friend.
The car, which was a bright red Corvette, swerved into the ditch.
My uncle, whose child you just met, is a pediatrician.
Remember to use relative pronouns when you need to link a relative clause to another clause. They may act as the subject of the sentence or the object of a verb or preposition.