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Relative Pronouns

Relative Clause Relative Pronoun KS2 Year 5 Year 6 Grammar English Resources

What are relative pronouns?

Relative pronouns are specific pronouns used to introduce relative clauses within a sentence (a relative clause is a type of subordinate clause which provides additional information about a noun).  

The most common relative pronouns are: who, whom, whose, which, that - but - what, when and where can also function as relative pronouns in certain circumstances (however, their use is not prescribed by the National Curriculum).

Choosing a suitable relative pronoun, depends on the type of relative clause it introduces and how this links to the main clause of the sentence.

When do you use relative pronouns?

Each relative pronoun has a specific function and usage in a sentence. Therefore, choosing the appropriate relative pronoun for a relative clause will depend on what the sentence is referring to. For example:

Who: refers to people, or sometimes animals.

Theseus, who was strong and brave, defeated the monstrous minotaur.

Theseus plunged his sword into the belly of the minotaur who fell to the ground with an almighty crash.

Albert Einstein was a famous physicist who developed the theory of relativity.

Whom: refers to people in more formal styles of writing.

The landlady of 221B Baker Street, whom Sherlock adored, was not a talented chef.

They were old friends, whom were easy company.

Whose: demonstrates possession by people, animals and sometimes places or things.

Abigail, whose party it was, offered everybody a slice of cake.

It was Bess, whose bedroom window faced the courtyard of the inn.

Which: refers to animals, places or things.

The old man reached for the tea pot on the top shelf, which wasn't easy with a bad back.

The cat, which had been snoozing in the sun all afternoon, was curled up on the windowsill.

That: refers to people, animals, places or things (instead of who, whom or which) and offers a slightly more informal tone.

The train, that had arrived later than expected, was packed with commuters.

This is the wall that Hadrian built in 122 CE.

When: refers to a time or time period.

Not a day goes by when I don't regret my decision.


Encourage children to experiment with the relative pronoun used to introduce a given relative clause, so they can see the impact that pronoun choice has on the meaning and precision of the resulting sentences. This will help children to identify and use appropriate relative pronouns in their own writing.

Where do you use relative pronouns?

Relative pronouns are used to introduce a relative clause by linking to a noun within the main clause.

Relative clauses are typically found embedded in the middle, or at the end, of a sentence, following the noun it modifies.

For example:

The old man reached for the tea pot on the top shelf, which wasn't easy with a bad back.

The cat, which had been snoozing in the sun all afternoon, was curled up on the windowsill.

Why do you use relative pronouns?

Children are taught about relative pronouns and relative clauses to develop their understanding of English Grammar, to help them to construct complex sentences and to improve their written and spoken communication skills.

Using relative clauses will help children to construct more complex, meaningful and precise sentences and can improve the cohesion of their written work. As noted above, pronoun choice can also vary the tone of a written piece as different relative pronouns offer different degrees of formality.

Understanding relative pronouns and relative clauses can also support children's comprehension of a written text by helping them to understand the relationship between the different parts of sentences.

Relative pronouns in the National Curriculum

The National Curriculum introduces relative pronouns, in the context of relative clauses, in Year 5.

Relative clauses beginning with who, which, where, when, whose, that, or an omitted relative pronoun.

To understand their use, children should already have a solid understanding of the different word classes (noun, verb, pronoun etc.) and of the terminology: phrase, clause and sentence.

Learning about relative pronouns and clauses builds on children's understanding of subordinate clauses (introduced in Year 3) and pronouns (introduced in Year 4).

Children's understanding of relative pronouns and relative clauses is tested as part of the KS2 Grammar SATS paper, where they are typically asked to identify or to use a relative pronoun in a sentence.

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