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The word “that” has many different uses in English. Today we’re going to focus on just one of them: “that” as a relative pronoun.
“That” can be used as a relative pronoun to connect two clauses.
It can be used to refer to things (instead of “which”) and people (instead of “who”).
That = Which
I’m wearing the watch that I bought last week.
= I’m wearing the watch which I bought last week.
The book that I’m reading at the moment is very good.
= The book which I’m reading at the moment is very good.
That = Who
My best friend is the girl at the back of the class that is wearing glasses.
= My best friend is the girl at the back of the class who is wearing glasses.
A doctor is someone that looks after ill people.
= A doctor is someone who looks after ill people.
“That” can only be used for things and people in defining relative clauses. Relative clauses are the ones containing essential information about someone or something.
Non-defining relative clauses
Non-defining relative clauses add extra information to the sentence.
Look at the following two non-defining relative clauses. It is not possible to replace the relative pronouns “who” and “which” with “that”.
Steven’s mother, who lives in Wales, has eight grandchildren.
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