Relative pronouns are one of eight types of a pronoun in the English (and Latin) language, which introduce relative clauses. Relative pronouns, are always at or near the beginning of the clause which they introduce -- a relative clause. Relative clauses are essentially adjective clauses, which means that they describe something. They, the clauses, are often placed after the noun which they will be describing, and they consist of a subject and verb (as do all clauses).
Relative pronouns have three nominative
Who and which introduce non-essential data to a sentence, and require commas which seperate them from the sentence (however, English is tending to use fewer commas than ever before -- it is not necessary, but it is not incorrect to use one). The nominative form simply means that they are the subjective form (as are the personal pronuns I, you, we). So, here are some examples of sentences with relative pronouns:
John, who went to the park on Saturday, is sick. What is the main clause of that sentence? John is sick. "who went to the park on Saturday," is the subordinate clause. Note how it is separated from the sentence with commas. You see, the relative clause interrupts the smooth flow of the English sentence, and when a writer interrupts such a flow, he should separate the interruption from the sentence with commas. Thus, this is why relative clauses can also be refered to as adjective clauses: They describe nouns and are non-essential.
Now, before you go all willy-nilly using your commas with your relative clauses, there's one other peculiarity, and it involves using the word that to introduce the clause. While it is true that using who and which introduces a non-essential clause, when a writer uses that, ie, This gun is the one that killed him, commas are not used to displace the clause from the rest of the sentence. This applies for the objective case, too, which, if you're not already bored out of your mind, you will read soon.
The possessive form of the relative pronoun is listed below:
(One should also note that whose literally means "of whom," but in English, many times instead of saying "of (noun)," we place an "'s" at the end of a word to denote
possession.) The possessive pronoun "whose" can also introduce a relative clause: "The boy, whose books were found at the bottom of the lake, was rather upset." Again, note the separation by comma, and that "whose" is introducing the clause. It "relates" back to the boy, which is why it's called a relative pronoun. Whose books? The boy's books. (The books of whom? The books of the boy)
The objective form of relative pronouns are listed below:
This is when the usage of relative clauses can become somewhat difficult. The objective case in English is one which is not nominative (subject-case) or possessive; it takes care of all other slots in the English language (ie: Prepositions
, Direct objects
, Indirect objects
.) Here is an example using whom: "I am the one whom you love." Note how in the clause, "you" are the subject, and "whom" (relating to "I," me) is the object. The uses of who and whom
can be confusing, especially if one doesn't quite understand subjcet/verb/object usage, so when in doubt, try using this trick: Replace whom with him, and who with he (or the feminine gender
, if that's your thing!). If the sentence still makes sense, then, my friend, you've got it! If, however, it doesn't make sense, such as in "him is going to the store," switch the two cases and you'll get "who, or he, is going to the store," which makes perfect sense.
One thing not to do is confuse who, which, or whom if they are being used as interrogative pronouns (same words, but they do different things):
"My friend, who went to the store, came home late"=Relative
"Who are you?"=Interrogative (The sentence is a question, and who is used as an interrogative pronoun. One way to be able not to confuse interrogatives with relatives is to know that relative pronouns (clauses) never start at the beginning of a sentence)
For you Latin freaks, here is a list of Latin pronouns:
M F N M F N
Nom Qui Quae Quod Qui Quae Quae
Gen Cuius Cuius Cuius Quorum Quarum Quorum
Dat Cui Cui Cui Quibus Quibus Quibus
Acc Quem Quam Quod Quos Quas Quae
Abl Quo Qua Quo Quibus Quibus Quibus