Pronouns 1: Relative pronouns

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‘Who’ – ‘whose’ – ‘whom’ – ‘that’ and ‘which’ – are relative pronouns.

There is often confusion about the use of who, whose, whom, that and which.

  • We use who when referring to people or when we want to know the person.
    • The person who answered the phone was very rude.
    • Who ate all the biscuits?
  • We use which to refer to a thing or an idea, and to ask about choices.
    • My ring, which is 20 years old, isn’t worth much.
    • Which size do you wear, small, medium or large?
  • We use that for both a person and a thing/idea.
    When that is used it usually refers to classes or types of people.

    • This is the style that I want to use.
    • The car that belongs to me is the blue one over there.
    • He is the kind of person that/who can be trusted.
    • I want to speak to the person who (not that) called me yesterday.
    • The person who (not that) borrowed the book from the library, should return it as soon as possible.
  • Whose refers to ownership.
    • Whose book is this?
    • There’s the girl whose dog is lost.
  • Whom: 
    When who is the object of a verb, whom can be used instead, but it is formal and rather old-fashioned.
    In modern speech, we use who, or we leave out the pronoun.

    • To whom did you wish to speak? (formal)
    • Who would you like to speak to? (modern speech)
    • You are referring to a person who no longer works here.
    • The person to whom you are referring no longer works here.

The person (who) you are referring to no longer works here.