I recently learned how to use interrogative pronouns in chinese, such as 什么 (what), 谁 (who) ,etc. But in English we also use these words as what I think are called 'Reflexive Pronouns' or something like that. It is the what in "Do you know WHAT that chair is for" or 'Integrity is WHAT he needs. The who in "I know a few people WHO drive blue cars." How does chinese use those words?

3 Answers 3


What you are talking about are called relative pronouns. Chinese, you may have noticed, does not play by English rules. Chinese does things differently, and to my mind often more elegantly. One way is this use of 是 ...... 的 or some other 动词 .... 的 combination. Relative clauses are just bigger adjectives really, and that is often exactly how Chinese uses the information content of the relative clause, as part of a big adjectival phrase, in front of a noun.

[relative clause]
(information content of relative clause)
{noun + relative pronoun, or just relative pronoun}

  1. That is {the dog [that} (bit me)]!

  2. What is that chair /used/ for? (For what purpose is that chair used?)

2a. Do you know {WHAT} that chair is /used/ for?
2b. Do you know {the thing [that} that chair is (used) for]?

Using 所 you get close to an English style relative pronoun,but here it is still wrapped inside a 是 ... 的 clause. In my head, I always think 'thatwhich' for 所。

  1. Integrity is {WHAT} he needs.
    3a. Integrity is {the thing [which} he needs]. (In Chinese I think they will say 'the thing which he lacks)

  2. I know {a few people [WHO} (drive blue cars)].
    4a. I know {a few people, [those people} drive blue cars].

Don't like writing in the comments box.

Simple answer is: No. It depends on what you want to say and how you want to say it. 回家的人 is not a relative clause, just adjective + noun. There is a thing called a Zero Relative Clause. Basically, the Relative Pronoun is omitted, but could be inserted. "This is the man (who) I met yesterday.

那时正是冬天, 黑漆漆的街上, 满满都是回家的人。
It was winter then, the dark streets (were) full of people (who were) headed home. (The words in brackets make the sentence too wordy.)

我到家的时候, 我们一起去超市吧。
¨WHEN I get home, we will go to the store¨.

There are various ways to express 'when'. An easy way is 的时候, 的时

Chinese can put the information content of an English relative clause in front of the noun. That means, it is not a relative clause but an adjective. We can't write 'The headed home man' in English, but in Chinese it's easy. I believe this originates in the Germanic penchant for 'Verb second'.

  • Thank you. Just a few more questions. Do all relative clause need to follow a 是/动词? Can a relative clause just come before a 的 like 回家的人( Man who came home)? I think that is an example of a relative clause that doesn't need 是. Also, is WHEN in the statement ¨WHEN I get home, we will go to the store¨ phrased in a relative clause in Chinese? Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 17:20

"That chair is for..." (那椅子是用來...)

"[What] that chair is for " (那椅子是用來做[什麼旳])


"That chair is for..." (那椅子是留給...)

"[Whom] that chair is for " (那椅子是留給[誰旳])


'He needs integrity' (他需要诚信)

'Integrity is [what] he needs." (诚信是他[]需要[])


"I came from Hong Kong" (我来自香港)

"Hong Kong is [where] I came from" (香港是我[]来自[旳地方])


"A few people drive blue cars" (幾個人駕駛藍色汽車)

"A few people [who] drive blue cars" (幾個駕駛藍色汽車[的人])


You're mixing up question words and relative pronouns. Your Chinese examples are for question words: https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Placement_of_question_words

Your English sentences use "what" for linking relative clauses. Chinese uses different constructions than English does:


Are there relative pronouns in Chinese

Finally, if you want to avoid basic confusions like this in the future, I recommend having a read through something like https://www.amazon.com/English-Grammar-Students-Chinese-Learning/dp/0934034397

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