Relative pronouns have a peculiar function in the sentence, since they serve both as pronouns and as connectives. Their use may be seen by comparing the two sentences that follow.
1. This is the sailor and he saved my life.
2. This is the sailor who saved my life.
Each consists of two parts or clauses. In No. 1, the two clauses are connected by the conjunction and which belongs to neither the pronoun he which stands for sailor and is the subject of the second clause. In No. 2, there is no conjunction. Instead, we find the word WHO which replaces both AND and HE. This WHO is a pronoun, since it stands for sailor (precisely as he does in No. 1) and (like he) is the subject of the verb saved. But who is also a connective, since it joins the two parts of the sentence as and does in No. 1. Such words (which serve both as pronouns and as connectives) are called relative pronouns.
In No. 1, the two clauses are coordinate. Neither serves as a modifier and each might stand alone as a complete sentence (“This is the sailor." “He saved my life"). The sentence is compound. In No. 2, on the contrary, the clause WHO SAVED MY LIFE is a subordinate or dependent clause, for it is used as an adjective modifier of the noun sailor which it limits by showing what particular sailor is meant. The sentence is complex. The dependent clause (who saved my life) is connected with the main clause (this is the sailor) by the pronoun WHO which refers to sailor.
Relative pronouns connect dependent clauses with main clauses by referring directly to a substantive in the main clause.
This substantive is the antecedent of the relative.
Thus the noun sailor is the antecedent of who.
Relative means carrying back. These pronouns are so called because they carry the mind back directly to the antecedent.
The simple relative pronouns are who, which, that, as and what.
WHO and WHICH are declined as follows in both the singular and the plural.
Nominative…..who and which
Possessive….whose and whose
Objective…..whom and which
That, AS and WHAT are not inflected. They have the same form for both nominative and objective and are not used in the possessive case.
AS may be used as a relative pronoun when such stands in the main clause.
1. Such of you as have finished may go.
2. I have never seen such strawberries as these [are].
3. Use such powers as you have.
AS is often used as a relative after the same.
1. This color is the same as that [is].
2. Other relatives are also used after the same.
3. This is the same book that (or which) you were reading yesterday.
4. This is the same man that (or whom) I saw on the pier last Friday.
WHO is either masculine or feminine.
WHICH and WHAT are neuter.
THAT and AS are of all three genders.
Examples : GROUP - A
1. All who heard approved.
2. Here is the lad whose story interested you.
3. The first woman whom I saw was Mary.
4. He answered in such English as he could muster.
5. I saw nobody that I knew.
6. This is the road that leads to London.
In older English the WHICH is often used for WHICH such as….
Our foster-nurse of nature is repose,
The which he lacks.—Shakespeare.
A relative pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender, number and person.
The sentences in Examples : GROUP – A illustrate the agreement of the relative with its antecedent in gender.
Since relative pronouns have the same form for both numbers and for all three persons, their number and person must be discovered, in each instance, by observing the number and person of the antecedent.
1. It is I who am wrong. [First person, singular number : antecedent, I.]
2. All you who are ready may go. [Second person plural: antecedent, you.]
3. Give help to him who needs it. [Third person, singular: antecedent, him.]
4. The road that leads to the shore is sandy. [Third person singular: antecedent, road.]
5. The roads that lead to the shore are sandy. [Third person plural: antecedent, roads.]
To determine the number and person of a relative pronoun is particularly necessary when it is the subject of the clause, for the form of the verb varies (as the examples show) according to the number and person of the subject. Hence the rule for the agreement of a relative with its antecedent is of much practical importance.
The case of a relative pronoun has nothing to do with its antecedent, but depends on the construction of its own clause.
1. The servant who opened the door wore livery. [Who is in the nominative case, being the subject of opened.]
2. He discharged his servant, who immediately left town. [Who is in the nominative case, since it is the subject of left, although its antecedent (servant) is in the objective.]
3. The servant whom you discharged has returned. [Whom is in the objective case, since it is the direct object of discharged. The antecedent (servant) is, on the other hand, in the nominative, because it is the subject of has returned.]
4. Here is such money as I have. [As is in the objective case, being the object of have. The antecedent (money) is in the nominative.]
A relative pronoun in the objective case is often omitted.
1. Here is the book which you wanted.
2. Here is the book you wanted.
3. The noise that I heard was the wind.
4. The noise I heard was the wind.
5. The man whom I met was a carpenter.
6. The man I met was a carpenter.
Note : In older English a relative in the nominative is often omitted such as…..There’s two or three of us have seen strange sights (Julius Cesar), that is, “There are two or three of us who have seen," etc. The same omission is often made in rapid or careless colloquial speech. It is approved in clauses with there in such sentences as “He is one of the best men there are in the world".
Certain questions of gender call for particular attention.
WHICH is commonly used in referring to the lower animals unless these are regarded as persons. This is true even when he or she is used of the same animals.
1. This is the dog which I mentioned. Isn’t he a fine fellow?
2. We have one cow which we prize highly. She is a Jersey.
The possessive WHOSE may be used of any object that has life.
1. This is the man whose watch was stolen.
2. I have a cat whose name is Tabby.
3. This is the tree whose leaves were destroyed. It is quite dead.
In the case of things without animal life, of which and whose are both common. The tendency is to prefer of which in prose, but whose is often used because of its more agreeable sound. In poetry, whose is especially frequent.
1. A broad river, the name of which I have forgotten, forms the northern boundary of the province.
2. Jack was fishing with a bamboo rod, to the end of which he had tied a short piece of ordinary twine.
3. She was gazing into the pool, whose calm surface reflected her features like a mirror. [“The surface of which" would not sound so well.]
Note : In older English, WHICH is often used for who or whom such as….He which hath your noble father slain, pursued my life (Hamlet).
The compounds WHEREOF, WHEREFROM and WHEREWITH, are equivalent to OF WHICH and FROM WHICHTHUS….Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him" (Genesis xxvii. 41).