November 24, 2014

Pronouns: Relative

A relative pronoun relates to another noun preceding it in the sentence. In doing so, it connects a dependent clause to an antecedent (i.e., a noun that precedes the pronoun.) Therefore, a relative pronoun acts as the subject or object of the dependent clause.

Consider the following sentence where the relative pronoun is a subject:

  • The chef who won the competition studied in Paris.

In this sentence, WHO relates back to (or is relative to) the noun CHEF. WHO also acts as the subject of the dependent clause and the verb WON.

The dependent clause: who won the competition.

The independent clause: The chef studied in Paris.

  • The shirt that Carl bought has a stain on the pocket.

In this sentence, THAT relates back to (or is relative to) the noun SHIRT. THAT is also the object of the verb BOUGHT.

The dependent clause is: that Carl bought.

The independent clause: The shirt has a stain on the pocket.

Which relative pronoun to use is determined by what the antecedent is and whether the dependent clause is essential information in relation to the independent clause.

When referring to people use these relative pronouns:

(A person)– Who, Whom, Whoever, Whomever

These pronouns take a different case depending on whether the relative pronoun is a subject or an object in the dependent clause. Therefore, it becomes critical to not only know the subject and object forms of these pronouns but to be able to identify how they are being used in the dependent clause.

Determining the case of relative pronouns:

When these relative pronouns are the subject (initiating the action) of the dependent clause, use the subjective case.

Subjective/Nominative case: Who, Whoever

  • Negotiations were not going smoothly between the two leaders, who made no bones about not liking each other.

WHO relates back to the noun LEADERS and is the subject of the dependent clause and the verb MADE.

  • Hillary Clinton’s staff said it was the first lady who wasn’t feeling well.

WHO relates back to the noun FIRST LADY and is the subject of the dependent clause and the verb WAS FEELING.

  • Most workers, whoever was not employed by the auto manufacturer, toiled at one of the millions of little minnow companies.

WHOEVER relates back to the noun WORKERS and is the subject of the dependent clause and the verb WAS EMPLOYED.

When these relative pronouns are the object (receiving the action) of the dependent clause, use the objective case

Objective case: Whom, Whomever

  • Clinton knows that he is a polarizing figure whom people either love or hate.

WHOM relates to the noun FIGURE and is the object of the verbs LOVE and HATE. The subject of the dependent clause is PEOPLE.

  • This is the approach taken by journalists, whom some consider to be objective.

WHOM relates to the noun JOURNALISTS and is the object of the verb CONSIDER. The subject of the dependent clause is SOME.

  • The three representatives, whomever the committee chooses, should be at the meeting tomorrow.

WHOMEVER relates to the noun REPRESENTATIVES and is the object of the verb CHOOSES. The subject of the dependent clause is COMMITTEE.

Remember: Who and whom can be interrogative or personal pronouns rather than relative pronouns.

A relative pronoun must refer to a noun preceding it.

  • The man whom he most admires will be here tonight.

In this example WHOM is a relative pronoun to MAN.

  • Whom does he most admire?

In this example WHOM is an interrogative pronoun.

  • The candidate will choose who will act as campaign director.

In this example WHO is a personal pronoun.

When referring to a place, thing or idea use these relative pronouns:

(A place, thing or idea)– Which, That

When using relative pronouns for places, things or ideas, rather than determining case, the writer must decide whether the information in the dependent clause is essential to the meaning of the independent clause or simply additional information.

Determining the correct relative pronoun:

When information is critical to the understanding of the main clause, use THAT as the appropriate relative pronoun and do not set the information off by commas. The clause containing the pronoun and not set off by commas is referred to as a restrictive clause.

(Restrictive)– That

  • Russian generals have delivered a message that is difficult to ignore.

THAT relates back to the noun MESSAGE and is necessary for the reader to know what MESSAGE the sentence is about.

  • Clinton will continue to hammer out a historic Mideast pact that bears his stamp.

THAT relates back to the noun PACT and is necessary for the reader to know what PACT the sentence is about.

  • There is another factor that obviously boosts the reputation of both of these men.

THAT relates back to the noun FACTOR and is necessary for the reader to know what FACTOR the sentence is about.

When information is NOT critical to the understanding of the main clause, use WHICH as the appropriate relative pronoun and set the information off by commas. The clause set off by commas is referred to as a nonrestrictive dependent clause.

(Nonrestrictive)– Which

Nonrestrictive relative pronouns describe, add incidental detail or begin new/separate ideas. There is usually a comma separating the nonrestrictive clause from the main/independent clause

  • The toughest intramural fight of all for Clinton was the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he undertook a full year before the 1994 election.

WHICH relates back to the noun AGREEMENT and the information following it is not necessary for the reader to know what AGREEMENT the sentence is about.

  • Clinton refused to head toward the center on affirmative action and abortion, which are the two most sacred issues to the traditional liberal wing of the party.

WHICH relates back to the noun AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND ABORTION and the information following it is not necessary for the reader to know what AFFIRMATIVE ACTION AND ABORTION the sentence is about.

When referring to more than one place, thing or idea use these relative pronouns:

(Compound)– Whatever, Whichever

  • The three approaches, whichever works is fine, produce a more ambiguous picture of a man.

WHICHEVER relates to the noun APPROACHES and the information contained within the commas is additional, not critical information.

  • Any excessive profits, whatever exceeded accepted limits, would attract the notice of representatives.

WHATEVER relates to the noun PROFITS and the information contained within the commas is additional, not critical information.

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