Relative Pronouns

Usage in English

The relative pronouns in English are who, whom, that, which and whose.  Here is the way these words are used.

  • Who and whom are used to refer to humans.  E.g. "The teacher, whom the children love...."
  • Who is used for masculine and feminine concepts, and which for neuter.
  • That can refer either to humans or to things.  E.g. "The glass that broke was my favorite.  I helped the boy that fell off his bike."
  • Whose usually refers to humans, but can refer to things as well.  E.g. "I sold the car whose color I did not like.  I love the girl whose eyes sparkle in the moonlight."

A relative pronoun introduces a clause that usually modifies a noun.  In the example above, whose introduces the clause color, and modifies the noun car.

A relative clause is the relative pronoun an the clause it introduces.  E.g. "The teacher who has a good communication style teaches Greek.

Relative clauses can perform many of the same functions as nouns and adjectives.  For instance, it can be:

  • the subject (Whoever is with me is not against me).
  • the direct object (I eat what is placed before me).
  • the object of a preposition (Give the Bible to whoever asks for it).

This becomes important in our translation, because the relative clause must be viewed as a unit.

Decl. 2 1 2 Translation
Gender M F N
Nom. S. ὅς who/which/that
Gen. S. οὗ ἥς οὗ of whom/which
Dat. S. to whom/which
Acc. S. ὅν ἥν whom/which/that
Nom. P. οἵ αἵ who/which/that
Gen. P. ὧν ὧν ὧν of whom/which
Dat. P. οἵς αἷς οἵς to whom/which
Acc. P. οὕς ἅς whom/which/that

The relative pronouns are very similar to the definite article.  The keys for distinguishing them are the breathing marks and accents.  The relative pronouns always have a rough breathing mark and an accent.  The article may be unaccented, and often begins with the letter tau.

The number and gender of a relative pronoun is the same as the antecedent noun that it refers back to.  In this respect, it is similar to αὐτός.

The case of the relative pronoun is determined by its function in the relative clause.  In this respct, it is different from an adjective.  The adjective will always agree with its noun.  In the sentence:

The man whom we know teaches us.
ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὂν γινώσκομεν διδάσκει ἡμᾶς. can see that even though the antecedent (ἄνθρωπος) is nominative, the relative pronoun (ὂν) is accusative because it is the direct object of the verb γινώσκομεν .


Translating Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun is translated differently depending on the function of the relative clause.

  1. If the relative clause modifies a word, then the relative pronoun is translated with the simple who, which, or that.
  2. Relative clauses can also function as the subject, direct object, indirect object, object of a preposition, etc.  In other words, they can perform almost any function that a noun can.

    For example, in the sentence, "Who will be first will be last", the relative clause is the subject of the verb will be.  To make the translation smoother, you could add a personal pronoun, "He who will be first will be last."
  3. When used in conjunction with ἄν, the relative pronoun becomes indefinite.  That is, who becomes whoever.
  4. When used with ἐάν, the relative pronoun becomes if, when, whenever.



No sooner do we learn something about Greek than we have to talk about exceptions to the rule.  The case of the relative pronoun is usually determined by its function in the sentence.

However, sometimes it gets sucked into the antecedent noun, and the case gets altered to agree with the noun, rather than with its role in the relative clause.  Since this is like a spacecraft or probe getting attracted by the gravitational field of a large planet or star, we call this process attraction.

The time of the promise that God promised to Abraham has drawn near.
ἤγγιζεν ὁ χρόνοω τῆς ἐπανγγελίας ἧς ὡμολόγνσεν ὁ θεὸς τῷ Ἀβραάμ.

The relative pronoun ἧς should have been the accusative ἥν because it is the direct object of ὡμολόγνσεν, but it was attracted to the genitive case of its antecedent ἐπανγγελίας.