In this week’s episode of Everyday Grammar, we are going
to discuss the relative pronouns who, that and which.
A relative pronoun relates to the noun it is describing.
Relative pronouns introduce a relative clause. Think of relative clauses as long
adjectives. Adjectives are words that describe nouns.
Let’s start with an example sentence:
The woman who called me yesterday was my mother.
In this sentence who is the relative pronoun,
and who called me yesterday is the relative clause. The clause is describing
the noun woman.
In general, the relative pronouns who, that,
and which do one of two things:
1. They help identify the noun or
2. They help give more information about the noun.
In the example sentence, the clause “who called me yesterday”
identifies the noun, in this case woman.
When a relative clause adds more information about the
noun, the clause is surrounded by commas. Here is an example sentence:
My mother, who called me yesterday, says she is
coming to visit me this summer.
just one example of a relative pronoun that you can use when talking about a person.
Let’s listen to a scene from the comedy film Bridesmaids for another example.
In this scene, the main character Annie is telling her best friend that she has
changed. Listen for the relative pronoun:
“Lillian, this is not the you that I know! The you
that I know would have walked in here and rolled your eyes and thought that
this was completely over the top, ridiculous, and stupid!”
The relative pronoun Annie used in the scene is that
-- when she says “the you that I know.” In this sentence, that I know
describes the noun you.
Both who and that can be used in relative
clauses that describe a person. That can also be used to describe a thing.
“The bike that I bought last week was stolen.”
The relative clause "that I bought yesterday” describes the noun bike.
The relative pronoun which is also used to describe
Here is an example sentence using which.
“My bike, which I bought last week, was stolen.”
In this example, the relative clause “which I bought last
week” adds more information about the noun bike. The clause is surrounded
Here are some general rules about commas and relative clauses:
--If the clause begins with the relative pronoun that,
you do not need commas.
--If the clause begins with the relative pronoun which,
you generally need commas.
--If the clause begins with the relative pronoun who, you
need commas if the clause is adding additional information about the noun.
Here is an example sentence using the relative pronoun
who, with and without commas.
1. My sister who lives in New York bought an apartment
2. My sister, who lives in New York, bought an apartment.
In the first sentence, the relative clause who lives
in New York is identifying the noun sister. The speaker might have more
than one sister. The clause “who lives in New York” is identifying which sister
he or she is talking about.
In the second sentence, the same relative clause is adding
additional information about the noun sister.
Sometimes, English speakers remove the relative pronoun
altogether. Listen for the relative clauses in Shania Twain’s song You’re Still
You're still the one
You're still the one that I love
The only one I dream of
You're still the one I kiss good night
In one line, she keeps the relative pronoun that.
In the rest, she omits -- or removes -- the relative pronoun. If the relative pronouns
that and who are followed by a noun or pronoun, they can be omitted.
That makes the sentences “You’re still the one that I love” and “You’re still
the one I love” both correct.
We can talk about other relative pronouns in another episode
of Everyday Grammar. But for now, listen for the relative pronouns as we end
this episode with the David Bowie song “The Man Who Sold the World.”
You're face to face
With the man who sold the world.