When it comes to relative pronouns, there’s no way around using “who,” “which,” and “that.” We’ve already discussed the difference between “which” and “that” in this article. So today, we’ll take a turn on the usage of “who” and “which.”
Relative pronouns act as a connection between nouns and explanatory (or modifying) clauses. Those clauses can either be restrictive (and therefore essential to maintain the meaning of the sentence) or non-restrictive (hence, not essential to understand a sentence’s meaning).
While non-restrictive clauses must have commas before the relative pronoun, restrictive clauses don’t need them but must keep the relative pronoun at the exact same place in the sentence.
If you refer to a specific person, individual people, or groups, you have to use “who” as the relative pronoun. “Who” can be used for both restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.
“Who” in non-restrictive clauses:
The manager, who’s friends with my dad, gave us a discount.
The singer, who left the stage right after the concert, was exhausted.
The students, who forgot to do their homework, had to do afternoon lessons for detention.
“Who” in restrictive clauses:
I have a friend who can speak five languages.
We wondered who came up with the idea to throw a surprise party for Susan.
The referee is the person who’s responsible for controlling the game.
💡 Only when describing people and individual groups of people
💡 Used for both non-restrictive (with a comma) and restrictive clauses (without a comma)
“Which” refers to objects and non-humans (f.e. animals). Unlike “who,” “which” only works in sentences with non-restrictive clauses and therefore need a comma preceding the relative pronoun.
Our neighbor’s dog, which always wagged his tail when he saw us, sadly passed away last week.
The jacket, which I bought last week for the full price, is now on sale.
He meditates a lot, which helps him to relax and get focused again.
She outperformed herself last weekend during the marathon, which, unfortunately at the same time, caused a strain in her leg.
The car, which I just bought two weeks ago, has got a flat tire.
💡 Only when describing objects and animals
💡 Used for non-restrictive clauses (with a comma) only