WHO, WHOM, WHOSE, WHICH, THAT
These five words are called Relative pronouns, their usage has been somehow problematic; most users of the language wrongly interchange one of them for the other in usage, especially WHO and WHOM.
Let’s take this opportunity to learn more about them.
Before we go on to discuss how they are used, it is important for us to know what Relative pronouns are;
Relative pronouns are words that are used to introduce relative clauses i.e. they introduce clauses that give more information about nouns or pronouns. That is to say that they introduce clauses that describe nouns and pronouns.
Of course, we are already aware that these pronouns are five in number; WHO, WHOM, WHOSE, WHICH, THAT.
Let us look at them one after the other.
This relative pronoun is used to introduce a clause that gives more information about a human noun understood to be the subject of a verb.
Here, it is important for us to know what we mean by ‘a human noun understood to be the subject of a verb’.
a subject in grammar refers to the noun/pronoun that performs the action indicated by the verb (i.e. in the case of action/lexical verbs) or acts upon the verb (i.e. in the case of linking verbs).
In traditional grammar, we will say subject is the doer of the action expressed by a verb.
USAGE EXAMPLES OF WHO
e.g. The lady killed a snake.
The lady is my sister.
Now, we all know that ‘lady’ is human, we also know that in this example, ‘lady’s performs the action indicated by the verb ‘killed’, hence, the subject.
So we will have;
a. The lady who killed the snake is my sister.
b. The woman who helped me has come.
c. The boy who lives next-door is a scientist.
d. The King who insulted his subjects has passed on.
We need to observe that the nouns that the relative clauses introduced by ‘who’, are all referring to humans; woman, boy, King.
What it means is that, it will be wrong to say the following;
i. The dog *who barked is here.
ii. The pen *who I bought is missing.
‘Whom’ is used to introduce a clause that gives more information about a human noun understood to have the grammatical function of object.
When we say a noun functions as object, it means the noun receives the action expressed by the verb.
For instance, let’s take a look at these two sentences;
a. I insulted the lady.
b. The lady is my sister.
In sentence a. ‘lady’ functions as object of the verb ‘insulted’, because it receives the action expressed by the verb, ‘insulted’.
So if we are to join the two sentences (a and b) to have one sentence, then we will need to use WHOM.
That is; The lady whom I insulted is my sister.
Let us take a look at some three more examples for clarity;
I. The man whom the car knocked has passed on.
II. The lady whom the police arrested has been arraigned for court.
III. The teacher whom the students accused has been vindicated.
Once ‘WHOM‘ introduces clauses that give more information about human nouns that function grammatically as objects, it means, it will be wrong to say the following;
a. The dog *whom the hunter shot did not die.
b. The table *whom the children destroyed belongs to the man.
It will be wrong because ‘dog‘ and ‘table‘ are not human.
‘WHO‘ and ‘WHOM‘ are also used as interrogative pronouns, you can read more about them here https://sirwumbei.com/interrogative-pronouns/
First of all, ‘WHOSE‘ is the only possessive relative pronoun.
This relative pronoun is used to introduce relative clauses about animate nouns to show ownership or possession. It can be used for both human and non human nouns, but not inanimate nouns.
a. The man whose child died is a teacher.
In the above example, ‘whose’ is used to indicate ownership. It means the child belongs to the man.
b. The dog whose kennel was destroyed has relocated.
What it means is that, the kennel belongs to the dog.
c. The children whose school fee was taken have graduated.
d. The boy whose leg broke has recovered.
In fact, let me state that it is not appropriate to use WHOSE to introduce a relative clause after an inanimate noun, e.g the table *whose leg broke has been repaired.
However, ‘Whose’ can be used to ask questions about inanimate nouns, in which case, it is used in the interrogative sense. You can read more about interrogative pronouns here https://sirwumbei.com/interrogative-pronouns/
This relative pronoun is used to introduce relative clauses that give more information about non-human and inanimate nouns.
i. The dog which died was poisoned.
ii. The table which broke was bought by the man.
Let me also say that it doesn’t really matter whether the non-human or the inanimate noun functions as subject or object, ‘which’ can be used in any case.
a. The cat which bit the child is here.
b. The building which collapsed on the children was not built well.
i. The lion which the hunter shot did not die.
ii. The car which the man manufactured did not serve its purpose.
This is a ‘universal’ relative pronoun. It is used to introduce relative clauses about animate and inanimate nouns. These nouns can have the grammatical function of either subjects or objects.
It can be used virtually in any context ‘WHO, WHOM, and WHICH‘ are used. That means, it can replace any of these three.
However, it cannot and can never be used in the context of the possessive relative pronoun, ‘WHOSE‘.
i. a. The man who came here is my father.
b. The man that came here is my father.
ii. a. The boy whom the teacher punished has left the school.
b. The boy that the teacher punished has left the school.
iii. a. The bag which was stolen has been recovered.
b. The bag that was stolen has been recovered.
- a. The man whose daughter died has arrived at the hospital.
b. The man *that daughter died has arrived at the hospital.
In the above examples; a, and b, we observe that it is only in the context of ‘WHOSE‘ that we cannot use ‘THAT‘.
I hope this lesson was helpful?
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