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A relative clause is used to form one sentence from two separate sentences. The relative pronoun replaces one of two identical noun phrases and relates the clauses to each other. The relative pronouns and their uses are listed here:

Relative Clauses
NOTE: In speaking, that can be used for people, but NOT in formal written English.

The relative pronoun completely replaces a duplicate noun phrase. There can be no regular pronoun along with the relative pronoun.
  • Incorrect: This is the book that I bought it at the bookstore
  • Correct: This is the book that I bought at the bookstore
A sentence with a relative clause can always be reduced to two separate sentences, so each clause must contain a verb.


  • We bought a stereo. The stereo had been advertised at a reduced price.
  • We bought the stereo that had been advertised at a reduced price.

  • John is going to buy the house. We have been thinking of buying the house.
  • John is going to buy the house that we have been thinking of buying.


Who is used when the noun phrase being replaced is in the subject position of the sentence. Whom is used when it is from the complement position. 

NOTE: In speech, whom is rarely used, but it should be used when appropriate in formal written English. If you have difficulty deciding whether who or  whom should be used, remember the following rule:

Relative Clauses

Consider the following sentences.
  • The men are angry.
  • The men are in this room.
  • The men who are in this room are angry. 

  • The man is angry.
  • I don't like the man.
  • The man whom I don't like is angry.

Restrictive & Nonrestrictive Clauses

Who, whom, and which can be used in restrictive or nonrestrictive clauses. That can be used only in restrictive clauses. Normally, that is the preferred word to use in a restrictive clause, although which  is acceptable. TOEFL does not test the use of which and that in restrictive clauses. 

A restrictive clause is one that cannot be omitted from a sentence if the sentence is to keep its original meaning. A nonrestrictive clause contains additional information which is not required to give the meaning of the sentence.

Examples of restrictive & nonrestrictive clauses:

  • Restrictive: Weeds that float to the surface should be removed before they decay.
(We are not speaking of all weeds, only those that float to the surface. Thus, the sentence is restrictive; if "that float to the surface" were omitted, the sentence would have a different meaning)
  • Nonrestrictive: My car, which is very large, uses too much gasoline.
(The fact that car is very large is additional information and not important to the rest of the sentence. It is not possible to use pronoun that)


This relative pronoun indicates possession.

  • The board was composed of citizens. The citizen's dedication was evident. 
  • The board was composed of citizens whose dedication was evident.

  • John found a cat. The cat's leg was broken.
  • John found a cat whose leg was broken.

The materials of this post taken from a textbook Cliffs TOEFL Preparation Guide by Michael A.Pyle. I wrote this on my blog as a summary & as an attempt to prepare myself before take TOEFL  or IELTS test.

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