A relative pronoun
is a pronoun
In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...
that marks a relative clause
A relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. For example, the phrase "the man who wasn't there" contains the noun man, which is modified by the relative clause who wasn't there...
within a larger sentence
In the field of linguistics, a sentence is an expression in natural language, and often defined to indicate a grammatical unit consisting of one or more words that generally bear minimal syntactic relation to the words that precede or follow it...
. It is called a relative pronoun because it relates the relative (and hence subordinate
In linguistics, a dependent clause is a clause that augments an independent clause with additional information, but which cannot stand alone as a sentence. Dependent clauses modify the independent clause of a sentence or serve as a component of it...
) clause to the noun that it modifies. In English, the relative pronouns are: who
, and, in some treatments, that
. In addition, English has various fused relative pronouns, which combine in one word the antecedent and the relative pronoun: what
, and whichsoever
A relative pronoun links two clauses into a single complex clause. It is similar in function to a subordinating conjunction
In grammar, a conjunction is a part of speech that connects two words, sentences, phrases or clauses together. A discourse connective is a conjunction joining sentences. This definition may overlap with that of other parts of speech, so what constitutes a "conjunction" must be defined for each...
. Unlike a conjunction, however, a relative pronoun stands in place of a noun. Compare:
This is a house. Jack built this house. This is the house that Jack built.
Sentence (2) consists of two clauses, a main clause (This is the house
) and a relative clause (that Jack built
). The word that
is a relative pronoun in some analyses. Within the relative clause, the relative pronoun stands for the noun phrase it references in the main clause (its antecedent
In grammar, an antecedent is a noun, noun phrase, or clause to which an anaphor refers in a coreference. For example, in the passage "I did not see John because he wasn't there", "John" is the antecedent of the anaphor "he"; together "John" and "he" are called a coreference because they both refer...
), and is one of the argument
In linguistics, a verb argument is a phrase that appears in a syntactic relationship with the verb in a clause. In English, for example, the two most important arguments are the subject and the direct object....
s of the verb in the relative clause. In the example, the argument is the house
, the direct object of built
Other arguments can be relativised using relative pronouns:
- Subject: Hunter is the boy who kissed Jessica.
- Indirect object: Hunter is the boy to whom Jessica gave a gift.
- Adpositional complement: Jack built the house in which I now live. (similarly with prepositions and prepositional phrases in general, for example These are the walls in between which Jack ran.)
- Possessor: Jack is the boy whose friend built my house.
In some languages, such as German
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...
, which have gender
Grammatical gender is defined linguistically as a system of classes of nouns which trigger specific types of inflections in associated words, such as adjectives, verbs and others. For a system of noun classes to be a gender system, every noun must belong to one of the classes and there should be...
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....
, and noun declension
In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles to indicate number , case , and gender...
s, the relative pronoun agrees with its antecedent in gender and number, while its case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...
indicates its relationship with the verb in the relative clause. In some other languages, the relative pronoun is an invariable word.
The words used as relative pronouns are often words which originally had other functions: for example, the English which
is also an interrogative word
In linguistics, an interrogative word is a function word used for the item interrupted in an information statement. Interrogative words are sometimes called wh-words because most of English interrogative words start with wh-...
. This suggests that relative pronouns might be a fairly late development in many languages. Some languages, such as Welsh
Welsh is a member of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic languages spoken natively in Wales, by some along the Welsh border in England, and in Y Wladfa...
, do not have relative pronouns.
In English and German, different pronouns are sometimes used if the antecedent is a human being, as opposed to a non-human or an inanimate object (as in who
). This is a bank. This bank accepted my identification. She is a bank teller. She helped us open an account.
With the relative pronouns, sentences (5) and (6) would read like this:
This is the bank that accepted my identification. She is the bank teller who helped us open an account.
In sentences (7) and (8), the words that
are the relative pronouns. The word that
is used because the bank is a thing; the word who
is used because "she" is a person.
In some languages with relative clauses, such as Mandarin Chinese, there are no relative pronouns
A zero, in linguistics, is a constituent needed in an analysis but not realized in speech. This implies that there is a lack of an element where a theory would expect one. It is usually written with the symbol "", in Unicode .There are several kind of zeros....
. In English, the relative pronoun may be optionally omitted, particularly in speech, from a restrictive relative clause — that is, one which contributes to establishing the identity of the antecedent — if the relative pronoun would serve as the object of the verb or of a stranded preposition in the relative clause (as in This is the car I bought
= This is the car that I bought
or This is the car you heard of
= This is the car of which you heard
- English relative clauses
As in many other languages, an English relative clause is a subordinate clause that modifies a noun phrase, most commonly a noun. Relative clauses in English often contain a relative pronoun, but sometimes the relative pronoun is omitted.The relative pronouns in English are who, whom, whose,...
- English grammar
English grammar is the body of rules that describe the structure of expressions in the English language. This includes the structure of words, phrases, clauses and sentences...
In linguistics, a relativizer is a grammatical element used to indicate a relative clause. Not all languages use relativizers; most Indo-European languages use relative pronouns instead, and some languages, such as Japanese, rely solely on word order to indicate relative clauses...
- Relative pronouns in Spanish