Relative Clauses Part Three: Using prepositions with WHICH & WHOM

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
Woman looking at the sea prepositionsLet’s focus on the verb “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.

Paying for money in wallet prepositionsLet’s focus on a new verb, “pay for”:

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.

http://www.freeimages.com/search/think-about?free=1


Now you try.

 

  1. 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.
     thinking about a plan prepositions

    The plan

     thinking about his girlfriend prepositions

    The woman

  2. 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
  3. 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!

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