Relative Pronouns (KS2) Explained For Parents

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If your child needs a little extra help getting the hang of relative pronouns, this is the article for you.

From adverbial clauses to spelling rules, teaching methods have changed so much since we were in school and so many new terms have popped up, that we could all use a little refresher now and then. This quick guide to will talk you through the basics of what relative pronouns are, how they're used, and what your child needs to know.

What Is A Relative Pronoun?

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Relative pronouns are words that refer back to a noun which has already been used, and introduce a subordinate clause that gives more information about the noun. These subordinate clauses are called relative clauses (or sometimes adjective clauses). Like all subordinate clauses, they are phrases that give extra information about a noun but which do not make sense when separated from the rest of the sentence.

Example: Femi had a new bag, which was purple.

Here, the phrase 'which was purple' does not make sense on its own, which means it is a subordinate clause. The phrase 'Femi had a new bag' does make sense on its own, making it the main clause.

The word 'which' refers back to the noun 'bag', making it the relative pronoun in this example. The phrase 'which was purple' gives us more information about the bag.

What Are The 5 Relative Pronouns?

There are five common relative pronouns in English: 'who', 'whose', 'whom', 'which' and 'that'. Other words, like 'what', 'when' and 'where', are also sometimes included, but the five listed above are the main ones your child will need to know in KS2 English. Here's a quick breakdown of when we'd use each one.

Table of the five relative pronouns, their uses and examples.

Using Relative Pronouns

As we saw above, we use pronouns at the start of relative clauses. These are the clauses in a complex sentence that add more information about a noun. There are different ways this type of clause can work. An embedded clause adds information part-way through sentences. Below is a sentence with an embedded relative clause:

Example: Craig, who was teaching his sister to read, opened the book.

The extra information, beginning with 'who', appears part-way through the sentence. There are commas before and after it, to show that it is a separate clause.

When using relative clauses, we sometimes use an omitted relative pronoun. This means that we don't need to write out the pronoun before the clause. This happens most often when using 'that'.

For Example: Did you find those photos that you lost?

Is The Same As: Did you find those photos you lost?

In these two sentences the meaning stays the same. The second is a little more informal because of the omitted pronoun, but is still grammatically correct.

What Do Children Learn About Relative Pronouns?

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Although relative pronouns don't appear on the English National Curriculum until Year 5, children will have started to learn about other types of subordinate clauses as early as Year 2. As they progress through Year 3 and Year 4, children will grow more comfortable with using different types of subordinate clauses, such as adverbial clauses. Since relative clauses are a type of subordinate clause, this early teaching of complex sentences will form a solid base for them.

In Year 5, children will be formally introduced to relative pronouns and clauses, although by then most children will have come across them in their reading already. Some children may naturally start to use them in their writing simply from reading and imitating, while others may need a bit more encouragement to become confident. In Year 5 English lessons, they'll be expected to learn their definition and usage as well as being expected to identify omitted relative pronouns.

Tips And Tricks

We've said it before, but one of the best ways of teaching children anything is working through examples and giving them plenty of practice. Since there are only five main relative pronouns, your child should be able to memorise them fairly easily.

A quick search will turn up plenty of resources and worksheets to help your child practice. If you don't have a printer, there are some easy ways to give kids practice anyway.

One way of teaching children to identify these words is by giving them a list of relative pronouns (who, which etc.) and getting them to search for places they appear in a paragraph of text, for example from their reading book. Another way is to give them a simple sentence, like 'Lena walked to school', and ask them to add in a relative clause. Or, get them to play a game where they see who can make the most imaginative relative clause, or who can fit the most relative pronouns into a paragraph they're writing.

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