”Have you eaten all the cake THAT I made yesterday?”

”That” in this sentence is a relative pronoun that introduces the relative clause (I made yesterday), if I’m not mistaken. But what part of speech is ”that”? In dictionaries I find it under ”conjunctions”; is this correct? Are relative pronouns conjunctions and not pronouns?

  • 1
    Relative "that" is actually a subordinator, the same one that introduces declarative content clauses.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 17:33
  • 1
    'Subordinator' is its part of speech. In traditional grammar it's called a subordinating conjunction. Note that "that" is definitely not a relative pronoun: see my answer and that of user178049
    – BillJ
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


Traditionally it is analyzed as a relative pronoun (a subclass of noun). However, it is now considered a subordinator.

Traditional grammar analyses the that which introduces relative clauses as a relative pronoun, comparable to which and who, but we believe that there is a good case for identifying it with the subordinator that which introduces declarative content clauses (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002: 1056).

This classification is based on four reasons, one of which is the lack of upward percolation. "Which", for example, allows a preposition to be fronted; this is called 'upward percolation' : eg. "This is the knife [with which I cut it]".

With the subordinator "that", this is clearly impossible; hence, the ungrammaticality of *"This is the knife [with that I cut it].

Note also that relative pronouns "which" and "who" inflect for the genitive case ("whose"), and the subordinator "that" does not.


Have you eaten all the cake [THAT I made ___ yesterday?]

"That" is not a relative pronoun but a subordinator. https://simple.wiktionary.org/wiki/that

It's the same subordinator that introduces declarative content clauses, as in Ed told me that he had passed his exam.

There are a number of reasons why it's not a pronoun, one of which is that it has no genitive form and it never occurs as complement of a preposition.

For example, the patients to whom the letter was sent is grammatical but *the patients to that the letter was sent is of course not.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .