The antecedent of the relative clause (that is, the noun that is modified by it) can in theory be the subject of the main clause, or its object, or any other verb argument. However, many languages do not have the possibility, or a straightforward syntactic pattern, to relativise arguments other than the core ones (subject and direct object).
In English, a relative clause follows the noun it modifies. It is generally indicated by a relative pronoun at the start of the clause, although sometimes simply by word order. The choice of relative pronoun, or choice to omit one, can be affected by whether the clause modifies a human or non-human noun, by whether the clause is restrictive or not, and by the role (subject, direct object, or the like) of the relative pronoun in the relative clause. In English, as in some other languages (such as French; see below), non-restrictive relative clauses are set off with commas, but restrictive ones are not:
As regards relative clauses, English has two particularities that are unique among the Germanic languages:
The system of relative pronouns in French is as complicated as, and similar in many ways to, the system in English.
When the pronoun is to act as the direct object of the relative clause, que is generally used, although lequel, which is inflected for grammatical gender and number, is sometimes used in order to give more precision. For example, any of the following is correct and would translate to "I talked to his/her father and mother, whom I already knew":
However, in the first sentence, "whom I already knew" refers only to the mother; in the second, it refers to both parents; and in the third, as in the English sentence, it could refer either only to the mother, or to both parents.
When the pronoun is to act as the subject of the relative clause, qui is generally used, though as before, lequel may be used instead for greater precision. (This is less common than the use of lequel with direct objects, however, since verbs in French often reflect the grammatical number of their subjects.)
When the pronoun is to act in a possessive sense, where the preposition de (of/from) would normally be used, the pronoun dont ("whose") is used, but does not act as a determiner for the noun "possessed":
This construction is also used in non-possessive cases where the pronoun replaces an object marked by de:
More generally, in modern French, dont can signal the topic of the following clause, without replacing anything in this clause:
When the pronoun is to act as the object of a preposition (other than when dont is used), lequel is generally used, though qui can be used if the antecedent is human. The preposition always appears before the pronoun, and the prepositions de and à (at/to) contract with lequel to form duquel and auquel, or with lesquel(le)s to form desquel(le)s and auxquel(le)s.
Aside from their highly inflected forms, German relative pronouns are less complicated than English. There are two varieties. The more common one is based on the definite article der, die, das, but with distinctive forms in the genitive (dessen, deren) and in the dative plural (denen). Historically this is related to English that. The second, which is more literary and used for emphasis, is the relative use of welcher, welche, welches, comparable with English which. As in most Germanic languages, including Old English, both of these inflect according to gender, case and number. They take their gender and number from the noun they modify, but the case from their function in their own clause.
The relative pronoun dem is neuter singular to agree with Haus, but dative because it follows a preposition in its own clause. On the same basis, it would be possible to substitute the pronoun welchem.
However, German uses the uninflecting was ('what') as a relative pronoun when the antecedent is alles, etwas or nichts ('everything', 'something', 'nothing'.).
In German, all relative clauses are marked with commas.
In Biblical Hebrew, relative clauses were headed with the word asher, which could be either a relative pronoun or a relativizer. In later times, asher became interchangeable with the prefix she- (which is also used as a conjunction, with the sense of English that), and in Modern Hebrew, this use of she- is much more common than asher, except in some formal, archaic, or poetic writing. In meaning, the two are interchangeable; they are used regardless of whether the clause is modifying a human, regardless of their grammatical case in the relative clause, and regardless of whether the clause is restrictive.
Further, because Hebrew does not generally use its word for is, she- is used to distinguish adjective phrases used in epithet from adjective phrases used in attribution:
(This use of she- does not occur with simple adjectives, as Hebrew has a different way of making that distinction. For example, Ha-kise adom means "The chair [is] red," while Ha-kise ha-adom shavur means "The red chair is broken" - literally, "The chair the red [is] broken.")
Since 1994, the official rules of Modern Hebrew (as determined by the Academy of the Hebrew Language) have stated that relative clauses are to be punctuated in Hebrew the same way as in English (described above). That is, non-restrictive clauses are to be set off with commas, while restrictive clauses are not:
Nonetheless, many, perhaps most, speakers of Modern Hebrew still use the pre-1994 rules, which were based on the German rules (described above). Except for the simple adjective-phrase clauses described above, these speakers set off all relative clauses, restrictive or not, with commas:
One major difference between relative clauses in Hebrew and those in (for example) English is that in Hebrew, what might be called the "regular" pronoun is not always suppressed in the relative clause. To reuse the prior example:
More specifically, if this pronoun is the subject of the relative clause, it is always suppressed. If it is the direct object, then it is usually suppressed, though it is also correct to leave it in. (If it is suppressed, then the special preposition et, used to mark the direct object, is suppressed as well.) If it is the object of a preposition, it must be left in, because in Hebrew - unlike in English - a preposition cannot appear without its object. When the pronoun is left in, she- might more properly be called a relativizer than a relative pronoun.
The Hebrew relativizer she- ‘that’ "might be a shortened form of the Hebrew relativizer ‘asher ‘that’, which is related to Akkadian ‘ashru ‘place’ (cf. Semitic *‘athar) Alternatively, Hebrew ‘asher derived from she-, or it was a convergence of Proto-Semitic dhu (cf. Aramaic dī) and ‘asher [...] Whereas Israeli she- functions both as complementizer and relativizer, ashér can only function as a relativizer.
In Literary Arabic there is a relative pronoun alladhi (masculine singular), feminine singular allati, masculine plural alladhīna, feminine plural allawāti, masculine dual alladhāni (nominative) / alladhaini (accusative and genitive), feminine dual allatāni (nom.) / allataini (acc. and gen.).
Its usage has two specific rules: it agrees with the antecedent in gender, number and case, and it is used only if the antecedent is definite. If the antecedent is indefinite, no relative pronoun is used. The former is called jumlat sila (conjunctive sentence) while the latter is called jumlat sifa (descriptive sentence).
In Demotic Arabic the multiple forms of the relative pronoun have been levelled in favour of a single form, a simple conjunction, which in most dialects is illi, and is never omitted. So in Palestinian Arabic the above sentences would be:
As in Hebrew, the regular pronoun referring to the antecedent is repeated in the relative clause - literally, "the boy whom I saw him in class..." (the -hu in ra'aituhu and the -ō in shuftō). The rules of suppression in Arabic are identical to those of Hebrew: obligatory suppression in the case that the pronoun is the subject of the relative clause, obligatory retention in the case that the pronoun is the object of a preposition, and at the discretion of the speaker if the pronoun is the direct object. The only difference from Hebrew is that, in the case of the direct object, it is preferable to retain the pronoun rather than suppress it.
Japanese does not employ relative pronouns to relate relative clauses to their antecedents. Instead, the relative clause directly modifies the noun phrase, occupying the same syntactic space as an adjective (before the noun phrase).
In fact, since so-called i-adjectives in Japanese are technically intransitive stative verbs, it can be argued that the structure of the first example (with an adjective) is the same as the others. A number of "adjectival" meanings, in Japanese, are customarily shown with relative clauses consisting solely of a verb or a verb complex:
Often confusing to speakers of languages which use relative pronouns are relative clauses which would in their own languages require a preposition with the pronoun to indicate the semantic relationship among the constituent parts of the phrase.
Here, the preposition "in" is missing from the Japanese ("missing" in the sense that the corresponding postposition would be used with the main clause verb in Japanese) Common sense indicates what the meaning is in this case, but the "missing preposition" can sometimes create ambiguity.
In this case, (1) is the context-free interpretation of choice, but (2) is possible with the proper context.
Without more context, both (1) and (2) are equally viable interpretations of the Japanese.
Note: Spaces are not ordinarily used in Japanese, but they are supplemented here to facilitate parsing by non-speakers of the language.
See Relative pronouns in the Spanish grammar article.
In Georgian, relative clauses are generally marked both with a particle outside the clause, which is declined to indicate the relative clause's role within the larger sentence, and with a relative pronoun, which is declined to indicate its own role within the relative clause. The relative pronouns are formed by adding -ts to the corresponding interrogative pronouns. For example:
In this example, the particle is is the head of the relative clause, corresponding in this case to the English definite article (the). Inside the relative clause, romelshits is the relative pronoun: it is formed by taking the interrogative pronoun romel- ("which?"), adding the postposition -shi ("in") — producing the interrogative pronoun romelshi ("in which?") — and finally adding the suffix -ts to obtain the relative pronoun romelshits ("in which").
In Latin, relative clauses follow the noun phrases they modify, and are always introduced using relative pronouns. Relative pronouns, like other pronouns in Latin, agree with their antecedents in gender and number, but not in case: a relative pronoun's case reflects its role in the relative clause it introduces, while its antecedent's case reflects the antecedent's role in the clause that contains the relative clause. (Nonetheless, it is possible for the pronoun and antecedent to be in the same case.) For example:
In the former example, urbēs and quae both function as subjects in their respective clauses, so both are in the nominative case; and due to gender and number agreement, both are feminine and plural. In the latter example, both are still feminine and plural, and urbēs is still in the nominative case, but quae has been replaced by quās, its accusative-case counterpart, to reflect its role as the direct object of vīdī.
For more information on the forms of Latin relative pronouns, see the section on relative pronouns in the article on Latin declension.
|"the man who saw me"|
|"the man whom I saw"|
Indirect relative clauses are formed with a relativizer at the beginning; the relativized element remains in situ in the relative clause.Irish
|"the man whose daughter is in the hospital"|
|the||man||IND-REL||I gave||the||book||to him|
|"the man to whom I gave the book"|