"For someone used to the tiny creatures we get in England it was something of a shock."

I think, in this sentence, relative pronouns before some words have been omitted. I know rules of omitting relative pronouns, but in this case I have failed to understand before which words relative pronouns can be placed to understand the sentence perfectly, which has been stated above. Please, explain the rules of omitting relative pronouns with the help of the sentence stated above, so that I can be able to understand this type of sentences easily. You can also use other sentences to explain this fact clearly.

Thanks to everyone.

  • 1
    The pronoun can be omitted if it is not the subject of the relative clause. Thus, "Why not find someone who is less familiar with the issue" can be shortened to "Why not find someone less familiar with the issue." – Ricky Oct 29 '15 at 6:38
  • Related. – tchrist Apr 14 '18 at 0:32

There are four factors which decide whether a relative pronoun (or the word that) can be omitted or not:

  1. Is it a defining relative clause?
  2. Does the main verb in the relative clause have a separate Subject?
  3. Is the relative pronoun the first word in the relative phrase? (or is it preceded by another word, for example a preposition)
  4. Is the word who, which or that?

If the answer to the questions above is yes then the relative pronoun can be omitted. There are lots of duff websites around which might tell you that you can only omit these words if they represent the Object of the relative clause. This is hogwash. You can omit the pronoun as long as it is not the Subject of the matrix verb in the relative clause. The pronoun can, for example, be omitted if it is the Object of a preposition or Subject of another clause embedded within the relative clause.

Here are some examples to illustrate each point. An asterisk, *, denotes an ungrammatical example.

We cannot usually drop a pronoun from a non-defining relative clause:

  • The agent I met up with wants you to phone him. (defining)
  • *Your father, I met up with yesterday, wants you to call him. (non-defining)

We cannot drop the relative pronoun if the main verb in the relative clause does not have a separate Subject:

  • I don't like the elephant you bit. (matrix verb in r-clause has a Subject, you)
  • I don't like the elephant you said bit you. (matrix verb in r-clause has a Subject, you)
  • *I don't like the elephant bit you. (verb in r-clause has no Subject)

Notice that in the second example the missing pronoun represents the Subject of the verb bit.

If the pronoun is embedded within another phrase, for example a preposition phrase, then it cannot be omitted:

  • That's the circus I work in.
  • That's the circus in which I work
  • *That's the circus in I work.

We can drop the pronouns who, which and the word that, but we cannot drop the pronoun whose:

  • That's the table I bought.
  • That's the girl I like.
  • That's the girl whose table I like.
  • *That's the girl table I like.

The Original Poster's example

"For someone used to the tiny creatures we get in England it was something of a shock."

The word someone here has been post-modified by an adjective phrase. Some people argue that this is the result of removing who is from a relative clause. If you have a defining relative clause which uses the verb BE, you can often drop the relative pronoun and the verb BE. Whether it is now a kind of relative clause, or just an adjective phrase, or participle phrase modifying the noun is up for debate. Here are some more examples:

  • The man [who was] going into the chip shop was an undercover agent.
  • The elephant [who was] interested in the buns was rather plump.

Here's an example where you can't:

  • The people who were blond preferred detective fiction.
  • *The people blond preferred detective fiction.

We often cannot do this if what's left of the clause is only one adjective.

The sentence has a real relative clause modifying the phrase tiny creatures:

  • ... creatures [which] we get in England

This is a defining relative clause, and the verb get has its own Subject, the word we. There are no other words preceding which. We can therefore happily drop the relative pronoun.

We could rewrite the sentence like this to show where potential words have been omitted:

For someone who was used to the tiny creatures that we get in England it was something of a shock.


Many grammars use the terms restrictive/non-restrictive or integrated/supplementary to describe what I've called defining and non-defining relative clauses.

  • 1
    The only way the "the people who were blond..." is redundant as a sentence is by assuming that it is a defining property of blond people that they like detective fiction. I assume the assertion of the sentence's redundancy is either a failed attempt at humour or a blatant abuse of the word redundant... – oerkelens Oct 29 '15 at 12:22

For someone used to the tiny creatures we get in England it was something of a shock.

In the example sentence, there seem to be 3 verbs which are in bold. A typical clause consists of a subject and a predicate, where the predicate is typically a verb phrase.

(1) Used: It cannot function as a verb as there is a preposition "for" in the sentence and there is no object. Therefore, it has to work as a modifier for "someone" and in order to function as such, "used" should be an adjective (or participial adjective). A subjective relative pronoun and the verb "is" are omitted between "someone" and "used".

(2) Get: It is a transitive verb and there is no object in the sentence. There is no conjunction between "creatures" and "we". Therefore, the objective relative pronoun "which or that" is omitted before "we".

(3) Was: It is the main verb of the sentence.

For someone "who/that is" used to the tiny creatures "which/that" we get in England it was something of a shock

You have to remember:

  1. If the relative pronoun is the object of the verb, then it can be omitted.

  2. If the relative clause contains the verb "be" + "an adjective phrase (as in the example sentence)", "an prepositional phrase", "be + a past participle", "be + a present participle" then "relative pronoun + verb be" can be omitted.

You can visit this British Council site to see more examples.

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