Students of English make the following common relative clause error.
- The chair that I am sitting isn’t comfortable.
- The person who I live is my cousin.
- The school which I go is in Oregon.
They forget to include the preposition that goes with the verb and comes before the object of the preposition:
The chair that I am sitting in isn’t comfortable.
The person who I live with is my cousin.
The school which I go to is in Oregon.
Many common verbs are followed by prepositions before their object.
A partial list includes verbs such as:
- think about
- work with
- go to
- speak with
- look for
- ride on
- pay for
- worry about
- live with
- care about
- write about
- look at
We look at something or someone. That something or someone is the object of the preposition “at.”
- I am looking at a woman.
- She is looking at the water.
If I want to turn these sentences into adjective clauses, I must keep the preposition:
- The woman at whom I am looking is sitting near the ocean.
- The water at which she is looking is blue.
Putting the preposition first sounds very formal. I can also write the first sentence in these less formal ways:
The woman who I am looking at is sitting near the ocean.
The woman that I am looking at is sitting near the ocean.
The woman I am looking at is sitting near the ocean.
I only need to use whom if it follows the preposition. Otherwise, I can use who, that, or nothing at all (since the relative pronoun is an object).
I can rewrite the second sentence like this:
- The water which she is looking at is blue.
- The water that she is looking at is blue.
- The water she is looking at is blue.
While the relative pronoun can change or be deleted, and while the position of the preposition at can change, I must always keep the preposition at.
I can pay for a friend (as in treat the friend). I can pay for dinner.
- The friend for whom I paid had a birthday. The dinner for which I paid was expensive.
- The friend who I paid for had a birthday. The dinner which I paid for was expensive.
- The friend that I paid for had a birthday. The dinner that I paid for was expensive.
- The friend I paid for had a birthday. The dinner I paid for was expensive.
Now you try.
- First, what can you think about? You can think about: a plan, an essay, a problem, an idea, a person, and so on. Start your sentence with this noun as the subject.
- Next, follow that noun with an adjective clause using the verb think about.
- The plan that he is thinking about
- The woman who he is thinking about
- Finally, be sure the head noun has a verb after the adjective clause.
- The plan that he is thinking about will take a lot of work.
- The woman who he is thinking about is his girlfriend.
Or, this noun can be the object:
- I know the plan.
- I have never met the woman.
If it is the object, you just need to follow the object with the relative clause.
- I know the plan that he is thinking about.
- I have never met the woman that he is thinking about.
Practice a few more times with the other verbs above, and you will be an advanced writer in English!