Relative Pronoun Quiz – who, which or that?

Relative Pronoun Quiz


Who, that or which?



Here are some general rules to help you decide.

Use ‘who’ (more formal) or ‘that’ (less formal) to refer to people.  

– you cannot use ‘what’ to refer to people.


This is the client who I was telling you about.  (more formal)

This is the client that I was telling you about.   (less formal)

This is the lady what crashed into my car.  –   wrong!


Use ‘that’ or ‘which’ to refer to groups or things.

NB:  ‘that’ introduces restricted or essential clauses

but which’ introduces unrestricted or nonessential clauses

(just remember that ‘which’ is always preceded by a comma)

*see note below for more info re. essential and non-essential clauses


I’m part of the banking group ‘that’ has some of the biggest contracts in the country.

– here you restrict the banking group down to the one with the biggest contracts in the country.

The clause ‘that has some of the biggest contracts in the country’ is essential, without it the sentence wouldn’t be complete or make sense. 

but ….

I’m part of the banking industry, ‘which’ is suffering from the political upheaval in the country.


– here you are referring to the banking industry in its entirety, the secondary clause is not essential and you could just as easily say – ‘I’m part of the banking industry.’



A little extra ….  if you have previously used ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’ or ‘those’ to introduce an essential clause you can then use ‘which’ to introduce any other clause that follows – essential or not.


That is a job which you should leave to the professionals.

You can however leave out the second relative pronoun and this often sounds better.

That is a job you should leave to the professionals


*A note on non-restrictive or non-essential clauses.  


These are used to supply extra information that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.  The information in a non-restrictive clause should be preceded by a comma.


Eg.   I have an account, which offers a good rate of interest.

On the other hand, if the information in the clause is essential, then no comma is used and the clause is introduced with ‘that’ instead of ‘which’.

Eg.  I’m going to open an account that offers a good rate of interest.


A final word.

Although the information above presents the accepted grammatical rules on the subject it must be said that language is always evolving and it is becoming more and more accepted, especially informally, to use ‘which’ to introduce both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.

‘That’ however is never accepted even informally to introduce a non-restrictive or non-essential clause.