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Relative Pronouns – A Detailed Guide for Teachers

relative pronoun national curriculum
Relative Pronouns appear in the Year 5 & 6 National Curriculum in the UK. This is a detailed guide to what they are and how to use them.

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Table of Contents

What is a Pronoun?

Pronouns are words that take the place of a noun. 

So rather than say, “The boy’s ball bounced”, we can use the pronoun “his” as in, “His ball bounced”.

Examples of common pronouns include:  I, me, we, they, you, he, she, it, yours, himself and ourselves.

What is a Relative Pronoun?

A relative pronoun is used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun. The clause modifies, or describes, the noun.

So for example, “The boy who bounced the ball was bored.” Here the relative pronoun is “who“. It describes the noun – The boy. It also acts as a noun in the clause, “Who bounced the ball?” and so is a pronoun. 

What is a Relative Clause?

Another way of looking at Relative Pronouns is to start with Relative Clauses. 

We use Relative Clauses to describe or provide additional information without starting another sentence. 

So instead of two sentences here: 

“The boy had a ball. He is wearing a school uniform.” 

Using a Relative Clause: 

“The boy who was wearing a school uniform had a ball.”

The clause is actually acting as an adjective by describing the noun (the boy). 

All Relative Clauses start with a Relative Pronoun. 

Relative Pronouns and the National Curriculum.

Relative Pronouns appear twice in the national curriculum: 

  1. In the Year 5 & 6 Programme of study – Writing – vocabulary, grammar and punctuation – Pupils should be taught to: develop their understanding of the concepts set out in English appendix 2 by:[…] using relative clauses beginning with who, which, where, when, whose, that or with an implied (ie omitted) relative pronoun
relative pronoun national curriculum

2. In the  English Appendix 2: Vocabulary, grammar and punctuation – Year 5  Detail of content to be introduced (statutory requirement) – Relative clauses beginning with who, which, where, when, whose, that, or an omitted relative pronoun 

relative pronoun national curriculum 2

The curriculum is kind enough to give a list of Relative Pronouns: 

who, which, where, when, whose and that.

It does however also sneak in “an omitted relative pronoun“.

When and Where are not always Relative Pronouns.

Before we move on, it’s worth pointing out that “when” and “where” are not always Relative Pronouns. 

Most commonly when they are used to form a question: “When will the boy bounce the ball?” or “Where will the boy bounce the ball?” they are NOT acting as Relative Pronouns as they are not describing or modifying the noun.  

So a List of Relative Pronouns to Learn?

Who- Referring to people.

Which- Referring to things.

When- Referring to a time or time period.

Where- Referring to a place.

Whose- The possessive form of ‘who’.

That- Can be used to refer to people or things.

A Video Explaining Relative Pronouns:

When to use Commas with Relative Pronouns.

When relative pronouns are used to add descriptive information, that information is either essential or non-essential to convey the sentences meaning. 

Essential 

For example:
• This is the boy that bounced the ball against the car.
• I don’t like boys who bounce balls.

The Relative Clauses have been italicised. The Relative Pronouns have been underlined. 

If we remove the Relative Clauses, the sentences meaning are fundamentally different:

• This is the boy.
• I don’t like boys.

For example, “I don’t like boys” is very different from “I don’t like boys who bounce balls.”

When the Relative Clause is Essential, NO additional punctuation is needed. 

 

Non-Essential 

On the other hand, non-essential Relative Clauses add information that isn’t essential to the sentence’s overall meaning (but is probably nice to have). They could be deleted and the sentence would convey basically the same information. 

For example:
• This boy, who is bouncing the ball, is great at maths.
• The boy, who was bouncing a ball outside, is waiting for his friends.

In both cases, you could remove the Relative Clause and still understand the meaning of the sentence. The important part is that the boy is great at maths or is waiting for his friends. The fact that he is bouncing a ball is only nice to know.

When the Relative Clause is Non-Essential, commas should be used.

Relative Pronouns & SATs Papers.

relative pronouns in sats papers

We haven’t seen a lot of questions on Relative Pronouns in SATs paper beyond the type shown here. (We’ll probably do a blog on the different types of pronouns to help consolidation sometime.)

Omitted Relative Pronouns.

Omitted Relative Pronouns are hard. 

They depend on whether the Relative Pronoun is the subject or object of a sentence. 

We haven’t seen any questions on SATs about Omitted Relative Pronouns but they are on the National Curriculum. 

Basically, when the Relative Pronoun is the subject of the sentence is can be omitted. 

“The boy that we met bounced the ball” could be correctly altered to “The boy [that] we met bounced the ball.” 

Here “the boy” is the subject of the sentence. 

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